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Mudslides hit Weber Fire burn area

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Louis Ponce signals to backhoe operator Thomas Begay as they work to clear culverts within the Elk Springs Ranch subdivision, which was hit with mudflows after recent rains in areas burned in the Weber Fire.

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

Monsoonal rains have triggered ash and water flows along the burned-out perimeter of the Weber Fire southeast of Mancos.

An 18-inch wall of water washed through the front yard and foyer of a private residence about 6 p.m. Saturday near the north end of East Canyon, said Paul Hollar, deputy emergency manager with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.

On Sunday evening, 10 campers were evacuated from a cabin at the lower end of East Canyon because of a mudslide that covered Montezuma County Road 46, preventing them from coming or going, he said.

The campers had intermittent cellphone service and were able to contact emergency officials, who helped them evacuate, said Lt. Ted Meador, with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.

The campers had gone to the cabin for refuge, he said.

Two cars were missing Monday, apparently carried away in the mud flow, he said.

“What we think happened is the flash flood carried them into a ravine or somewhere, and they’re covered up by mud and ash,” Meador said.

County Road 46 is considered a “red road,” meaning residents who live along the rural road are required to maintain it, Hollar said.

The 10,133-acre Weber Fire started June 22 about 6 miles south of Mancos and was declared 100 percent contained at 6 p.m. Friday. The fast-moving fire ran northeast up Weber and East canyons.

Debris flows are common after major wildfires. Fire destroys vegetation and leaves a layer of ash over the soils that help absorb runoff water. The ash prevents water from spreading out as it normally does, and instead helps collect the water into narrow channels. The ash flows are denser than water and can carry large rocks and other debris, said Chuck Jachens, a hydrologist who is doing an emergency stabilization plan for the Bureau of Land Management.

“The big thing is to stay safe and stay out of the water and get away from it,” he said.

The burn area also can create its own weather pattern during the first few storms, Jachens said.

“The black basically creates some updrafts and takes those storm cells and pulls them into those canyons, and they just sort of hang there,” Jachens said. “It tends to be highly localized.”

The biggest concern around the Weber Fire burn area was for homes on the southern end of East Canyon, Hollar said.

A volunteer weather observer reported 1.95 inches of moisture during a 24-hour period ending Sunday morning at a location four miles northeast of Mancos, said Travis Booth, a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Forecasts predict thunderstorms to continue this week, but they are expected to produce less moisture than was experienced last weekend, he said.

The next chance for significant amounts of moisture is Friday, he said.

shane@durangoherald.com

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