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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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6/22/2014 7:25:00 AM
Oak Creek Canyon dwellers told to prepare for worst when the monsoons come
Burned Area Emergency Response Assessment Team Leader Greg Kuyumjian (right) said 60-80 percent of the canyon structures will be threatened by landslides and debris flows. VVN/Jon Hutchinson
Burned Area Emergency Response Assessment Team Leader Greg Kuyumjian (right) said 60-80 percent of the canyon structures will be threatened by landslides and debris flows. VVN/Jon Hutchinson
Members of the audience were asked to review large sheets of names of all canyon property owners. Those part- or full-time residents were asked to confirm contact information and warned if an assessment on their property showed it was in danger. VVN/Jon Hutchinson
Members of the audience were asked to review large sheets of names of all canyon property owners. Those part- or full-time residents were asked to confirm contact information and warned if an assessment on their property showed it was in danger. VVN/Jon Hutchinson

Jon Hutchinson
Staff Reporter


SEDONA -- As soon as the first drops of monsoon rain start to fall, the Coconino National Forest will close off all Oak Creek Canyon campgrounds, dispersed camping and day-use areas within the Slide Fire Burned Area.

That was one of the exclamation points at the end of a Sedona meeting last week to warn of the approaching hazards that will affect the burned area this year.

Last monsoon season, there were 10 storms in same area with no significant flooding. This year, with the area denuded by the Slide Fire, there will be life-threatening flash floods, said Flagstaff Chief Meteorologist Brian Klimowski.

"We are going to flood. It's not if, but when," warned Coconino Chief Deputy Jim Driscoll. "And the storms will be life threatening events."

The Burned Area Emergency Response Assessment Team has reviewed the area burned and the drainages. They determined that 60-80 percent of the canyon structures will be threatened by landslides and debris flows of 1,000 to 100,000 cubic meters in size in severe burn area.

Coconino County has plenty of experience with flooding after a similar fire. The Shultz Fire burned near the San Francisco Peaks north of Flagstaff in 2010. The subsequent flooding of properties below the burn area seemed to continue for years, according to Coconino County Emergency Services Manager Dustin Woodman.

Communication is a challenge in the digitally "dark" Oak Creek Canyon, where cell phone service is poor to non-existent and canyon visitors don't have land lines. Variable highway message boards, fixed signs, mobile cell towers and a localized AM radio station for the area and some other groundbreaking methods may be utilized.

This year, those dire flood predictions will cause the nine Sedona Fire District emergency sirens mounted in the canyon to blare, forcing people, residents and visitors to higher ground when a flash flood warning is issued. The officials said high water, debris of logs and rocks and landslides are all possible.

When you hear that warning, "You will have only minutes to respond," said Driscoll. So "have a plan" to get to higher ground and "practice the plan."

"Any thunderstorm over the burned area will cause flash flooding," warned the meteorologist. Property owners were advised to get flood insurance now. An assessment by the BAER team identified homes and businesses with labels of low, medium and high risk of flooding, land slides and other dangers.

Is your land threatened?

Members of the audience were asked to review large sheets of names of all canyon property owners. Those part- or full-time residents were asked to confirm contact information and warned if an assessment on their property showed it was in danger.

Fifty structures and one wastewater system were identified as being in moderate to high risk. Information was sent out to 400 property owners about the meeting.

Almost half of the burned area is in the moderate to severely burned classification, meaning that it will not hold rainfall.

Areas identified as at risk include Pine Flats, Shady Lane, West Fork, Forest Houses, Junipine, and Garlands among others.

Sedona City Manager Tim Ernster asked volunteers to help fill sandbags Friday and Saturday and given information on how to effectively use sandbags and the five locations where they could be found.

Sedona Fire Chief Kris Kazian advised people, "Have a plan, know the plan and practice the plan. More rain gauges will be installed but we will have large numbers of visitors and you will have a short notice. If there is a dynamic situation there will be delays in getting assistance."

The chief said crews are getting first responder training and have just completed additional training for swift water rescue.

Communication will be difficult. Kazian urged people to "take personal responsibility and think about how best to receive notifications."

Kazian again urged citizens to sign up for Code Red, the emergency notification system in both Coconino and Yavapai Counties. Pay attention to the emergency sirens, he said. Kazian noted that the siren system will be tested at 2 p.m. on June 26.

Yavapai Flood Control District Director Dan Cherry said the water will continue down river into Yavapai County. "We won't have the rocks and debris, but we will have high water," he said.

Forest to close in burn area through monsoon

Red Rock District Ranger Nicole Branton reviewed the warnings one by one:

• These storms will be life threatening.

• You will only have minutes to respond.

• Know where to go.

"We will maintain our fire closures and we will close all forest lands from Slide Rock to the overlook when the monsoon begins," said Branton.

The average date for the start of monsoons is July 7, according to Klimowski.

"We will try to leave the area open for the 4th of July weekend," said Branton.

She clarified that the closure will only affect federal forest lands, campgrounds, pull outs, and day use area, not private lands or the Slide Rock State Park, though forest land that is part of the park will be affected by the closures.

Branton says the closure will have an affect on visitors. "Still it is a 'pretty small closure' and we can direct them to other attractions on the remaining 500,000 acres of the district."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Article comment by: T. Hearn

Reply to When you experience a true monsoon…

That's true. Before we arrived in the Verde Valley from So. Calif., I had never seen rain & hail sailing horizontally over a fence. The apartment house where we stayed became an island, and the ground level apartments flooded. Everyone was caught without a sandbag to be seen, all shaking their heads and saying, "This hasn't happened for over ten years!" But since the monsoon of 2010, and the winter of 2010, the season has been relatively tame. Although, the Verde Valley always has a lot more "weather" than the Los Angeles basin.


Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Article comment by: When you experience a true monsoon you might not be laughing for long

The VV has not had a true monsoon season in years. There used to be spectacular lightening storms, lots of hail, the sky would look like when Dorothy and Toto left Kansas. High winds make torrential rain slant. The rain hits the bone desert so fast the dirt can't absorb it. Rain mixed with dirt slides downhill to fills the washes with this mess. Trees, especially Cottonwood trees, snap large branches off, power lines are down. During one storm, the windows of cars parked at WalMart (before Home Depot went in) were broken by flying debris. But it's been several yrs. since monsoon season has done much here.

Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Article comment by: ron grafe

What is never mentioned in these articles regarding the upcoming closures is that Slide Rock State Park is remaining open. True, one cannot access the creek. but it is still a great ( and soon to be the only ) place to get next to the canyon, walk about, learn some history or have a picnic. And, all at a reduced rate. Also, businesses in the canyon will be open- Indian Gardens, Butterfly Inn, etc... Come visit..

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014
Article comment by: Phony Baloney!

Make all the excuses you want. This state exagerates all the weather events like "monsoon" and "haboob". It is all weather and no matter where you live trying to exagerate your terms just make us look ignorantant. But, then, maybe we are with our low standing in education.

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014
Article comment by: Monsoon refers to wind shift

Interesting comments about what the term monsoon means. Meteorologically, it refers to the seasonal shift in prevailing winds.

Normally our winds and storm tracks are from the west. Could be west, southwest, or northwest, but we are typically affected by Pacific weather systems from the west.

This changes from about early July through mid-September, when the prevailing winds steers storms from the south instead. Our humidity levels jump up as moist tropical air filters into our region. This subtropical air could come from the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico, or from mainland Mexico.

This wind shift is what's called the monsoon. A similar weather phenomenon happens in India, where the winds shift.

Right now, all that humid air is still in Mexico, just to our south. Waiting. It's coming. I predict by July 7 or so, the average start date.


Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014
Article comment by: AZ Girl

Monsoon is a type of seasonal storm and has nothing to do with the amount of rain falling. Also, Im not sure where youve been during a monsoon storm, but deluge is usually more apt than sprinkle, even if it dosent last very long. The midwest gets more rain beacause they have a different climate. As in, not a desert.

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014
Article comment by: itsy bitsy Spider

"Monsoon" happens to be the term for a particular kind of weather event, Mr. Joke. The media could also call it seasonal heavy tropical moisture, but that wouldn't alter the fact the Midwest isn't subject to this particular kind of weather event.

Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2014
Article comment by: Monsoon? What a Joke!

The midwest has had a heavy "rainy season" with lots of flooding. But you do not hear them using the term "Monsoon" to make it sound so dramatic. What is it with us in this state that we have to be so dramatic about our weather terms? We should be embarrassed to call our brief storms a "monsoon" when places like the midwest get more rain in one day than we have had in the past 20 years. Instead of "monsoon" we should call it "sprinkle" time.



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