SALT LAKE CITY – Several major wildfires that scorched Utah mountainsides last month have triggered a heightened concern for flash floods, and some areas have already been affected.
The National Weather Service said Friday that southern Utah is at risk for flash floods during the next several days because burn scars from wildfires have increased the weight of runoff from storms. Forecaster Nanette Hosenfeld said officials are also concerned about flooding in northern Utah County because the Quail Fire there burned near homes, forcing hundreds of residents to flee last month.
Last week, some houses in Fountain Green in central Utah were flooded with mud from runoff caused by the Wood Hollow Fire. Hosenfeld said about 10 flash floods have resulted from the Seeley Fire, which burned 75 square miles inside the Manti-LaSal National Forest.
“What’s a little unusual this year is the number of fires we’ve had, so that really increases these debris flows,” she said.
Transportation officials are clearing debris from flooding on State Route 31, also caused by a scar formed by the Seeley Fire in Emery County. A section of the road is closed about 10 miles west of Huntington.
The flooding happened Wednesday evening, plugging culverts and stranding drivers, the Utah Department of Transportation said.
Spokesman Kevin Kitchen said it’s unknown when the road will reopen. He said about a quarter mile of road at Pole Canyon is under debris and some areas are deep as 6 feet. Kitchen said officials will also be working on rebuilding shoulder areas affected by erosion.
Kitchen said the wildfires have made dealing with the typical heavy rains more difficult, because vegetation that usually helps trap the water is gone.
“A smaller event suddenly becomes a much larger event,” he said about the consequence of the wildfires. “It can create a larger runoff than what we would typically have otherwise,” he said.