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The Second Disaster – Flood After Fires

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September is National Preparedness Month. This year it also happens to be a dry one across much of the West. The devastating fires on the West Coast have the nation’s attention, but we also have seen fires in our own backyard in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.  FEMA has provided assistance to these four states battling wildfires to ensure a larger disaster does not occur.

While it may not seem so now, the fires will soon be extinguished. And although it may feel like the time to let out a sigh of relief, another threat is close behind. Those living downstream of burn scar areas are at an increased risk of flooding, and this risk can last for years after a fire. Flooding can be a hazard even if you are not living in what is currently a high-risk flood area.

In the aftermath of wildfires, burn scars are left without the vegetation that can help absorb rainfall. In addition, the soil itself can be left with a hardened crust, almost acting like concrete when redirecting water. These conditions can turn what would normally have been a simple thunderstorm into a flash flood event. These events can come with very little warning.

An additional hazard exists in the form of mudflows, where water picks up ash and debris that have been left behind after a fire. These mudflows can inflict a great deal of damage to your home and property.

What can you as an individual do to prepare for this threat? First, be sure to have important documents and papers gathered in a waterproof container.  Ask local officials about areas in your community that could be impacted by thunderstorms and know evacuation routes if necessary. Then make sure you follow current weather conditions via the media or your local National Weather Service at weather.gov.

Finally, you should look at purchasing a flood insurance policy. Damage from flooding and mudflows is generally not covered under a homeowner’s policy. Talk to your insurance agent to see what is right for you. Policies are available for owners and renters as well as businesses.  Policies take 30 days to go into effect, so the time to buy is now.  Learn more about flood insurance at floodsmart.gov.

Brave firefighters do everything possible to combat wildfires. Unfortunately, there is little we can do to prevent Mother Nature from bringing rainfall at unwanted times. It’s up to each of us to take steps to make sure that flood after fire isn’t the second disaster we face.

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Last updated September 29, 2020