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Protective Wall

A concrete wall made from Jersey barriers snakes across the playing fields behind Killip Elementary School in Sunnyside on Wednesday morning. The school is now surrounded on three sides to protect it from floodwater coming off the Museum Fire burn area.

As of late Monday morning, three weeks after the Museum Fire broke out in the Dry Lake Hills area above Flagstaff, the fire reached 100% containment, starting the timer for residents beneath the Spruce Avenue Watershed to purchase flood insurance with immediately eligible claims.

The fire burned through 1,961 acres in the Dry Lake Hills area above Flagstaff, which at its peak had more than 600 fire personnel and many aircraft responding to the fire. According to the Coconino National Forest, one engine and six personnel are assigned to the area to patrol the burn scar as of Monday. The wildfire, which burned through 1,961 acres, including parts of this watershed, has left a lasting concern of post-fire flooding for the residents of Elden Estates, Linda Vista, Paradise Road, Grandview and Sunnyside.

The cause of the Museum Fire is not known at this time and is under investigation, but the skies were clear and no lightning was reported on July 21, the day the fire started, suggesting a human cause.

Mayor Coral Evans was thankful for the work fire personnel with the U.S. Forest Service contributed to managing the fire.

“I am so excited that we’ve reached 100% containment. I’m very grateful for all the individuals that had hands in that,” Evans said.

Normally, flood insurance claims cannot be filed until 30 days after purchasing an insurance plan; however, a federal law allows residents impacted by post-wildfire flooding to have a 60-day window to file a claim immediately after purchasing flood insurance. The 60-day period begins when a wildfire on federal lands has been declared 100% contained, which was Monday.

By using this waiver, residents in the affected area will be able to purchase flood insurance and file claims immediately, a perk unavailable at the time of the Schultz Fire and subsequent flooding.

If insurance is purchased on the 61st day or later, residents will have to wait an additional 30 days before they can file claims.

Coconino County Supervisor Liz Archuleta sparked the law after residents of her district were unable to file claims when their property was damaged in the post-Schultz Fire flooding in 2010.

Archuleta said the first flood occurred 14 days after the Schultz Fire was contained, and some residents who bought flood insurance after that were unable to file a claim to cover the flood damage to their home. Residents at the time reported the mud and water that flowed into their home damaged their walls, floors, furniture, clothes and other property.

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She is now pleading for residents to take advantage of a benefit that was needed but unavailable at that time.

“Please don’t wait, do it now. Buy flood insurance now. Take advantage of this waiver,” Archuleta said.

RESIDENTIAL FLOOD MITIGATION COMPLETED

As of Friday, mitigation efforts for residential areas in danger of flooding were completed. County staff and volunteers prepared more than 400 homes for flooding, laid nearly 7,000 linear feet of concrete barriers and produced 540,000 sandbags.

“It was a good reminder of what it means to be a community, what it means to work together, to stand side-by-side next to someone you don’t know to fill sandbags for someone down the street. That sense of community [is] why we live in Flagstaff,” Evans said.

Although the city has infrastructure designed to withstand a 25-year flood event, the Museum Fire burned severely enough to harden the soils in the Dry Lake Hills to a glass-like substance that will not absorb water, but send it directly downhill, increasing the chances of a larger and more disastrous flood in these communities.

County Flood Control District Administrator Lucinda Andreani said her team is now approaching businesses and commercial properties in the lower Sunnyside area and offering sandbags from the large stockpile stored at the County Public Works building. Though Andreani said county staff are no longer setting up the bags, they will deliver them to businesses and show where they need to be placed.

Andreani added that the Flood Control District is also working with the Forest Service to stabilize channels above Mount Elden Estates to prevent those sediments from plummeting downstream if flooding occurs.

“We’re in good shape. Within three weeks, we have accomplished what I call a Herculean effort. We’ve had tremendous cooperation from the community and now we’re going to see what happens. This week is a lower chance of rain, but as the [National] Weather Service keeps reminding us, it only takes one event,” she said.

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Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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