Stuart Cole was asleep at his home in the Silver Saddle Mobile Home Park on Sunday night when the cement wall in his back yard gave out, releasing a 5-foot-high wall of water.
“All I could smell is earth. I could hear water spilling over the wall,” Cole said.
The neighborhood looked like a hurricane had ripped through it. Unbeknownst to Cole and his neighbors, a pond covering about an acre had built up in a cement-fenced pasture.
At about 11 p.m., the cement failed and water started passing through Cole’s yard. His home was untouched but the river would take 2 1/2 hours to run its course.
Others in the neighborhood weren’t as lucky.
The brunt of the water flow passed through the yard of his next door neighbors, an elderly couple. Summit Fire Department crews had to carry a wheelchair-bound man through the floodwaters to safety.
It was thought that the mobile home’s foundation was not stable.
“I’ve been here 16 years and it’s the first time it’s happened,” Cole said.
The National Weather Service estimated it could have been as many as 100 years since rainfall of that intensity fell on the area.
“The rainfall that was recorded was among the most intense ever observed over the Schultz network of gauges,” according to Brian Klimowski of the National Weather Service.
The agency recorded 1.38 inches in a 15-minute period, 2.05 inches in a half-hour and 2.44 inches in an hour.
“These three rates place this event with a return period of between 50 to 100 years,” he said, adding that the period was likely closer to 100 years.
Farther north into the Schultz burn area, the rainfall was not as intense. Wupatki Trails and Brandis Way, the only two completed areas of the flood mitigation project, saw the least amount of water.
But floodwaters still ripped down Campbell Avenue, causing some damage.
Summit Fire Department Chief Don Howard said it was the most intense flood event the area had seen since 2010. Many residents agreed with him.
In Flagstaff, many areas saw little rain at all.
“The county has invested millions in flood mitigation efforts that are reducing impacts to hundreds of homes from mountain runoff,” said Coconino County Supervisor Liz Archuleta, according to a press release. “However, we can still expect some localized flooding as these projects continue. Just two years ago, the type of heavy rainfall seen late last night would have devastated dozens of homes.”
The rainfall came on the heels of three inches that soaked Mount Elden on July 16 and sent flows down through some of the same neighborhoods that were hit hardest on Sunday. Officials blamed the prior soaking as a contributing factor in the overnight floods.
RIVER OF WATER
At the Ralston family home in McCann Estates, Eric Ralston said he was shocked to wake up at about 11 p.m. and discover a river — stretching some 50 to 75 feet across — rushing through their yard.
“It was like all of a sudden there was a river outside,” said Karen Ralston, Eric’s mother. “There’s not a lot you can do about it.”
The water inundated Ralston’s property and made its way into the garage, which occupied the first story of the home. It took the family, their friends and church members hours to clear the yard of the several feet of mud left behind.
About 20 people worked to stack sandbags in front of the home in case the river returned.
“We’re hoping this gets the county’s attention,” Eric Ralston said. “This is twice in one week the water has gone through here.”
He said the county had been grading the roads in the neighborhood throughout much of the night or they would not have been passable.
SHED PUSHED THROUGH WALL
Just a few hundred yards down from the Ralston residence is the Silver Saddle Mobile Home Park.
Ben Gantt said that like his across-the-street neighbor, Cole, he also woke to the river coming through his yard and watched from his driveway as it flowed just feet from his front door and along the sides of his home.
Everything in his yard was destroyed. His patio furniture was pushed out the now-missing brick wall and toward the culvert on Highway 89. Gantt said Monday he was rallying his Boy Scout troop to help fill sandbags for area residents. (see related story)
Three neighbors to the north of Gantt also lost their retaining walls — including one who had a storage shed washed out through a hole in the wall and pushed toward Highway 89.
When the water exited the neighborhood, it washed across the Highway 89 and forced the Arizona Department of Transportation to stop traffic. Coconino County Public Works crews helped the state agency remove the debris and reopen the roadway.
The water made its way into the Silver Saddle area and flooded properties on Silver Spur Road, which had also been washed out the previous Tuesday.
“My heart goes out to these people,” said Howard, the Summit fire chief, who was out in the neighborhood much of the night. “These folks are gonna need a helping hand.”
Howard estimated that about 75 homes had been affected by the water.
Coconino County officials said they were assessing the damage on Monday and would see about what measures they could take to help protect homeowners in the area. Some homes might be good candidates for concrete Jersey barriers, which help divert rushing water from hitting homes, officials said.
The water’s force could be seen all the way up the east-facing slopes of the San Francisco Peaks. Swarms of massive boulders and charred trees filled old culverts and ripped open new ones as the waves of water rushed down hill.
Waterline, Schultz Pass and Elden Spring roads have been closed because of the extensive damage and will not likely be opened in the near future (see related story).
Along Schultz Pass Road just past the intersection of Elden Spring Road, there were multiple fresh drainages carved overnight. And on the north side of Little Elden, which burned on the fifth day of the Schultz fire, there were also at least a half-dozen new drainages formed overnight.
The water appeared to have flowed down from Schultz Pass and Little Elden, joined in one massive runoff inside Weatherford Canyon and made its way down toward Elden Spring and on to the unsuspecting residents at the bottom.
At the Little Elden Spring Horse Camp, the Forest Service had to bring in heavy bulldozers and equipment to rebuild Elden Spring Road so stranded campers could get out.
The camp host said the rain and lightning were heavy, but didn’t last that long. The flooding however ripped through the nearby ravine, digging it several feet deeper than it had been the previous day.
Campers said they had slept through the flooding and woke to find the road was closed and they couldn’t get out.
Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or email@example.com.