Utah wildfire prompts flood fears

Fire-damaged land unlikely to absorb much water from winter snow and rain

BY MONICA OLIVAS | NEW HARMONY, UTAH | September 7, 2009


As firefighters work to completely contain the Mill Flat Fire that has been burning in southwestern Utah since July 25, emergency officials are beginning to worry about the potential for winter and spring flooding in the region.

The blaze has destroyed 12 homes in New Harmony, and charred more than 12,000 acres in the Dixie National Forest. Trees and the forest understory the smaller shrubs and saplings that grow under the tall forest canopy -- are completely gone in those burn areas. Now that land is barren and will be unable to absorb much of the storm waters from winter rain and snow.

“A lot of ground cover has moved so there is the potential for flood this winter,” says Vince Mazzier, Public Information Officer with the Dixie National Forest incident management team.

Officials are not sure how this potential flooding will impact local homes, but most residents of the area will be affected in some way if severe flooding occurs.

“Flooding would impact how people move around the area. It could potentially harm roads,” says Mazzier.

Dixie National Forest rangers and officials always respond when fires burn the forest. They rehabilitate the areas that may present a problem. The Burned Area Emergency Response or B.A.E.R. group is currently assessing the situation to plan the best steps to prevent flooding.

Forest officials usually use straw bales and materials with wire to slow down sentiment and build water bars.

Now approximately 60 percent contained, the Mill Flat Fire was started by lightning and as long as it was not threatening homes, it has been allowed to burn away old growth that can often fuel fires even more. While forestry officials are glad that the fire got rid of much of the old growth, now their focus is on preventing flooding.


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