After two years of preparation, flooding off the Museum Fire burn scar flooded some homes, closed streets and tested infrastructure Tuesday afternoon.
Just after 3 p.m., the amorphous blob of water and sediment, rocks and tree limbs quickly flowed down the Spruce Wash and crashed into the culvert at Linda Vista Drive.
Within seconds, the water and debris began to back up, flowing over the banks of the wash and into the street.
The flow had been predicted by the National Weather Service, which issued a flash flood warning for the area about an hour before the muck made its way into the streets.
The cause was an estimated 2 inches of rain that fell on the Museum Fire burn scar, just a few miles to the northwest of the impacted area.
And with additional rain expected in the next week, city and county teams may have a real headache clearing storm drains and culverts as they prepare for the possibility of new flooding.
Kurt Drawz and his family live on Linda Vista in the path of the flooding. He said his home is directly across from where the Spruce Wash intersects with the road. The wash then borders the northeastern side of his property.
“We knew this was a possibility,” he said as the waters began to recede, just about 40 minutes after the debris flows first came into the street.
While his yard was “a muddy mess,” Drawz said water also made it into his house and garage. But he believed the damage was limited.
“Not catastrophic, but not good,” he said.
City and county officials have long predicted that the flooding would likely be deepest along sections of Paradise Road and on Grandview Drive, before starting to spread out in the lower and flatter Sunnyside neighborhood.
Officials had also worried about debris flows clogging and overwhelming existing city stormwater infrastructure.
And for the most part, those predictions seemed to come true.
Flows in the Spruce channel overflowed the roadway at Linda Vista Drive and Cedar Avenue, with both roads quickly closed by street crews.
Fast-moving floodwaters and debris in flows approximately one foot deep were reported in the Sunnyside area running curb-to-curb on Main Street. Roads impacted by flooding included Rose Street, Fourth Street and Route 66.
According to some residents, the water started flowing down Main Street, which was largely undefended by sandbag walls, as residents of that street had not expected waters to flow in the immediate area.
On Second Street, there were reports of waters flowing in the roads and, at times, just lapping at the curbs of the sidewalk. Even so, there were reports of at least some homes in the area flooding.
The event left city streets crews working hard to clear major roads of debris just over two hours after rain started to fall on the burn scar.
According to the National Weather Service, significant rainfall on the burn scar began around 2:15 p.m. and lasted for around an hour and a half in total. In that short period, gauges across the scar measured between 0.9 and 2.17 inches of rain.
Much of that rain appeared to come in just 15 minutes when an estimated .75 inches fell in the area.
The Coconino County Emergency Management agency announced the shelter in place orders around 2:30 p.m., which affected the neighborhoods of Mt. Elden Estates, Sunnyside, and residents in areas of North Paradise Road and Grandview Drive. Residents were advised to get to high ground if outside and not to enter drainages.
With widespread thunderstorm coverage forecast across northern Arizona for at least one more day, Wednesday afternoon brings another chance of a heavy downfall above the burn-scar, according to the NWS. The forecast calls for a chance of rain every day through next Tuesday, with the likelihood dipping on Thursday and Friday but increasing through the weekend.
Tuesday’s flash flood warning issued by the NWS remained in effect for about an hour in the burn-scar area and lasted until 4:30 p.m.
“In a sick sort of way, I was happy to see it,” Dawz said of the flooding.
If nothing else, Drawz said he and his neighbors were finally able to see whether all the work they have done, and that of city and county staff, has been worth it.
For nearly two years since the Museum Fire, sandbags and concrete barriers have lined homes and streets across much of the area.
Drawz said up until last month, much of their driveway was blocked by concrete barriers. Those barriers have been a real inconvenience, Drawz said, prevented them from using a significant amount of their driveway.
As a result they decided to talk to the county and sign the papers to get those barriers removed just three weeks ago.
Now that flooding has occurred, Drawz said he is undecided as to if they made the right choice to get the barriers taken down. Drawz admitted the absence of the barriers left his home less defended, but he added he thought that water still may have made it through nonetheless.
The following email was sent to Museum Flood Area residents Tuesday evening and put out as a press release:
Coconino County and the City of Flagstaff will be working tonight on cleaning up from the flood event in the Museum Flood Area. Residents of the area should thoroughly read the following:
- STEP BACK: Today, residents were seen observing the flash flood flows very close to the water. This is extremely dangerous. There can be surges in flows, which can easily sweep people, particularly children, off their feet. Do not get close to the flood water. This video was taken today at the Linda Vista Culvert https://bit.ly/3ib1nde
- DEBRIS ON PROPERTY: If you have debris on your property, then you should move the debris to the street if you are able. This will help County and City Public Works crews sweep the debris with their heavy equipment.
- SANDBAGS: Pre-filled sandbags are available beginning at County Health and Human Services 2625 N. King St. tomorrow, July 14 at 8 a.m. The self-fill station will remain available on a continuing basis.
- PARKED CARS: If you live on one of the streets that has debris as a result of the flood, then please do not park your car on the streets. Parked cars on these streets prevent the sandbags from doing their job: protecting your property.
- MORE RAIN: Additional rain is expected tonight on the Museum burn scar between the hours of 1 a.m. – 3 a.m. This means that people in the area need to be alert and be prepared to shelter in place. Charge your phones. Assemble a Stay Kit with the following:
o First aid kit
o Pet supplies
o Manual can opener
o Cell phone & charger
o Personal hygiene items
o Cash (e.g., small bills and coins)
o Flashlight(s) with extra batteries
o 72 hours worth of food and water
o Copy of Family Communication Plan
o Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
o Prescription medications and eyeglasses
o Important papers (e.g., insurance and financial)
- TRACK WEATHER: For the latest Museum Fire scar weather conditions and NWS notifications, please visit https://www.weather.gov/fgz/MuseumFireFloodRisk - SIGN UP FOR EMERGENCY ALERTS: www.coconino.az.gov/ready
- MUSEUM FLOOD AREA CALL CENTER: The Call Center will be operational again tomorrow, July 14. Hours of operation may shift depending on any weather events that may occur. The number is 928-679-8525.
- STAY IN TOUCH: Coconino County and the City of Flagstaff are providing updates on websites and social media: coconino.az.gov, twitter.com/coconinocounty, and facebook.com/coconinocounty | flagstaff.az.gov, facebook.com/CityofFlagstaff
If you would like to be added to this email distribution list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional reporting by Sun Staff Reporter Brady Wheeler.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.