If that were not enough, the effects of a badly damaged watershed resulted in heavy flooding following the fire, causing those who had the fire at their back doors a month earlier even more stress hoping their homes were not in the path of the flooding.
On July 21, 2010, a monsoon storm caused a flood, sending water, mud and debris into homes in the Doney Park, Fernwood and Timberline areas. A 12-year-old girl was killed. It was estimated the fire and floods caused more than $130 million.
Now, three years later, county officials are deep into a restoration project to prevent flooding in the future.
“Basically, in the forest, we are trying to do in a matter of months what Mother Nature would take 30 to 50 years to do,” said Liz Archuleta, chair of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors.
“Since then we have almost two million sand bags in the area at homes and businesses. We have created cement barriers – like you see in the freeways – for some people when sand bags are not enough,” she said. “There would be a natural recovery, but that takes time to recover the watershed. Basically, we are going in and mechanically controlling erosion. We sent in emergency reserves to respond to the flooding. Helping people, we spent all of our emergency funds the first year.”
The county has spent a total of $60 million in mitigation, $7 million this spring alone.
The federal government helped with $12 million to assist in mitigation, she said.
“I had to knock on a lot of doors to get this money. It wasn’t just offered. I had a lot of meetings in Washington to share our plight. If there is a sliver lining to this, it has been an economic driver. We put a lot of contractors to work and a lot of businesses have benefited from the construction project and the mitigation. A lot of people have been put to work.”
So far, county officials have restored the alluvial sands, which are wide-open spaces where there is a lot of room for water to spread in a shallow way. When there is rain, she says, normally the water flows into natural channels. Those natural channels are being restored.
“We are trying to make them very natural. It is our hope in two or three years, people will not know there was a channel there. They are wide and shallow and carry a lot of water. Now it will be carried in an organized fashion in residential areas.”
Restoration has been completed on three of the eight watershed corridors, she reports.
A lot of the restoration project was put to the test during this monsoon season.
“We had the second wettest July since 1919. It’s looking like people are feeling a sense of relief about flooding.”
Elise and Rob Wilson experienced first the fire and then the flooding threat in their Doney Park neighborhood.
“The first year was pretty terrifying,” said Elise. “I was home by myself for the very first flood and we didn’t know where the flood water was going to come from. We knew it was coming but we didn’t know where or when. It sounded like the Colorado River was coming. We were lucky because our house is on a little bit of a hill and most of the water went around us.”
Some of her neighbors were not so lucky. “Every time it would rain, we would watch the clouds and wonder where it was going to hit this time.”
Wilson says she is grateful for the efforts of the county and says those efforts along with the natural healing of the land has eased the constant fear of flooding for her and the 7,000 others affected.
“We are cautiously optimistic. You never know when that big rain will drop two inches in an hour, but we have taken down our sand bags. Everyone is feeling better, but I know everyone is still thinking about it.” FBN