Arizona Gov. Ducey issues emergency declaration due to flash floods in Flagstaff area

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has issued a Declaration of Emergency in response to flash floods that have slammed parts of northern Arizona over the past few days.

The emergency declaration allows up to $200,000 to be used to help support communities in Coconino County affected by the floods.

Flagstaff was hit a third time with flooding on Friday, sending debris into the streets and forcing them to close. Residents reported streams of water flowing through their yards and on the busiest city streets.

"Severe post-wildfire flooding is creating dangerous challenges for communities in Northern Arizona," Ducey said in a statement. "We will continue to work closely with local officials and safety personnel to protect people, pets and property throughout Arizona."

Since July 13, heavy rain has been sweeping across northern Arizona, and it has fallen on large burn scars left behind by the Museum Fire in 2019. This caused flash floods that damaged homes, roadways, drainage systems and triggered road closures.

The city of Flagstaff and Coconino County opened a joint emergency operations center. Some of the flooding occurred in neighborhoods that sit in the shadow of a mountain that burned in the Museum Fire.

The National Weather Service issued a barrage of weather statements on Friday, warning of flood potential across the state. Many places have received more rain in the past month than in the entire 2020 monsoon season, which ran from mid-June through September, the weather service said.

"Torrential rainfall" sent flood waters flowing across State Highway 87 about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of Flagstaff at one point Friday evening between Payson and Pine, the service said. The city of Flagstaff said many sections of its urban trail system were damaged and impassable due to recent flooding.

The service also issued a dust warning Friday night on the southwest edge of Phoenix where winds in excess of 40 mph (64 kph) created a wall of dust that reduced visibility to less than a quarter-mile across an area that included parts of U.S. Interstates 10 and 8.

At least one death has been attributed to flooding. Grand Canyon National Park on Friday identified a woman who was found in the frigid Colorado River after a flash flood swept through her rafting group’s trip.

Rebecca Copeland, 29, of Ann Arbor, Michigan was found Thursday near the camp where the group of 30 had set up the night before, park officials said. Much of the group’s belongings were washed away after a torrent of water rushed through a slot canyon above them.

Park spokeswoman Kaitlyn Thomas said a handful of people were "very seriously bludgeoned by the debris." A handful of them had to be evacuated by air from the canyon, the park said.

A different commercial rafting group found Copeland and another woman who initially was reported missing. Thomas said she didn’t know whether that group actively was searching for the missing people at the time.

"I am confident that the river community did know something was up but I imagine they were on the lookout," she said.

The National Park Service and the Coconino County examiner are investigating the incident, the park said in a statement.

Experts working to analyze burn scars

"When a soil is burned by a fire, what it does is a crust will form on top of the soil," said Mike Martinez, Ecosystems Staff Officer for the Tonto National Forest.

When the crust forms on top of the soil, it will be difficult for rainwater to penetrate into the soil, thus creating runoff. Martinez is with the Burn Area Emergency Response Team (BAER), and his job is to evaluate an area that was recently burned by wildfire.

"First thing they do is they acquire what's called a bark image," said Martinez.

Satellites are used to take pictures of an area that’s recently been burned. A team of specialists, including hydrologists and soil scientists, will then head out to assess area. Once done, they will turn the images to what’s called a Soil Burn Severity Map.

"That is what is used to conduct all of the hydrologic modeling and the erosion modeling to determine what might happen when that area gets hit by a rain event," said Martinez.

The BAER assessment team then makes recommendations for land treatments to try to minimize what might happen when it rains.

"A part of the process is to share the information with the local emergency services and the towns and cities that might be affected by flooding, so that they can also prepare for those events," said Martinez.

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