What you should know if you live below a wildfire burn scar

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – Dodging property damage from wildfires doesn’t mean concerns are over for homeowners. Living below a wildfire burn scar means the concern has now shifted to mudslides and floods.

“If you have vegetation that’s cooked off and you have soils that are hydrophobic, it repels water like a Gor-Tex jacket. What happens is you get rain on the hillside which repels instead of infiltrates and that water runs down and then scoops out the bottom where the hillside is,” said Brian McInerney, hydrologist for the National Weather Service forecast office for Salt Lake City.

McInerney said debris flow depends on several factors such as the how steep the slope is and the amount of rainfall.

“If the area has been moderately to severely burned, then we’re talking about 1/2 inch in about a 1/2 hour to start a debris flow,” said McInerney.

Jenna Holt is a homeowner now concerned about debris flow. Her house came within feet of the Ensign Peak Fire on July 24th.
“It was pure chaos. We were not expecting it. We evacuated really quick and within minutes, the entire hillside was on fire and coming right towards our home,” said Holt. “We’re kind of on high alert right now with all of the rain coming in, constantly checking our homes in the back of our yards to make sure that we don’t see any mudslides coming down.”
Meanwhile, she said her family is waiting for other mitigation measures from the city.
“The city has provided some sandbags for our use to put into areas we were concerned about,” said Holt. “But while we’re waiting, we’re worried because the rains are coming and we love where we live, this is where our heart is.”
Kathy Holder, state flood plain manager for the State of Utah’s Division of Emergency Management said unfortunately, there’s not much homeowners can do to protect their homes from mudslides and floods.
“Homeowners living under a wildfire burn scar should look into getting flood insurance,” said Holder. “Normally, there’s a 30-day waiting period to get flood insurance. But if your house was near a wildfire, that waiting period is waived if you sign up within 60 days after the wildfire was contained.”
McInerney said homeowners living near burn scars should always be aware of weather conditions and be ready to evacuate in the case of severe thunderstorms.
“Look at the sky. If black clouds are starting to form and the forecast calls for thunderstorm activity and intense rain, take your kids and go get some ice cream. Move out of that area and move out of harm’s way. You can replace things, you can’t replace yourself,” said McInerney.
“Be ready to go for any disaster that could come. Have your go-packs and 72-hour kits ready in case you need to evacuate,” said Holder.
He also said that during peak season between July and September, parents should not let their children sleep in the basement.
“If you have nighttime thunderstorms, what you get is rain debris, logs, a lot of stuff coming off of the hillside in a debris flow. It could go down into the window well, break the window, slam the door shut and fill the room up within 10 seconds,” said McInerney.
Experts said the risk for mudslides and floods continue for at least three years following a wildfire and could last for up to 10 years.
For more information, visit Be Ready Utah.

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