NEWS

Wildfires in southwestern U.S. blaze a path for flooding in their wake

Several southwestern states have been ravaged by 18 wildfires in past weeks, the products of drought and extreme heat that dried out vegetation and increased the speed at which the fires spread.  However, as the rainy season approaches, some communities find themselves struggling instead with the recent onset of extreme rainfall.

The widespread and severe storms, coupled with the conditions left behind in fire-damaged areas, have resulted in flash floods.

Results of a flash flood outside of Tucson, Arizona – Wikipedia: Owen Kelly
Results of a flash flood outside of Tucson, Arizona – Wikimedia: Owen Kelly

This year’s turbulent weather has been particularly challenging for communities in the region. After a warmer, wetter winter led to increased vegetation growth, the early summer droughts and extreme heat turned the early growth into fuel for wildfires. Though seasonal rainfall is to be expected, the monsoon conditions and resulting flooding that many Western states are experiencing have proven to be more extreme than in past years.

Arizona and Utah have experienced record rainfall this season, while some regions of New Mexico remain on flood watch. State officials are particularly concerned about flooding in regions where vegetation was destroyed in wildfires, which makes the ground more conducive to flash flooding.

Arizona, for example, has experienced multiple floods following recent wildfires. On July 15, nine people were killed when a flash flood tore through Tonto National Forest in Arizona, the site of June’s Highline Fire which burned the path for the flood waters to inundate a popular swimming hole. Last week, 17 hikers were rescued from floods in a Tucson-area canyon, and on Sunday, 35 people were evacuated from an Arizona national park via helicopter after flooding occurred just a few miles away.

Further reading

Wildfires blazing under extreme heat out West – CNN

Monsoon rainfall to threaten flash flooding in southwestern US – AccuWeather

Western States, Recovering From Wildfires, Now Worry About Floods – The Wall Street Journal

Monsoon rainfall to threaten flash flooding southwestern US – Fox News U.S.

Arizona flash flood sweeps away family relaxing in a swimming hole, killing 9 – Washington Post

Harrowing resuce of 17 hikers from flooded Tanque Verde Falls – Tucson.com

Copter rescues hikers stranded by flooding in Arizona Canyon – The Seattle Times

What a Wet Winter Means for Wildfire Season – Water Deeply