Crews rescue 3 from vehicle in runoff-swollen Tucson wash

Crews rescued three people from a vehicle in a runoff-swollen wash on the outskirts of metro Tucson on Aug. 10 as monsoon thunderstorms caused scattered flash flooding in southeastern Arizona.

Personnel from the Golder Ranch and Northwest fire districts safely extricated the people trapped in the vehicle stuck in the chest-high water, the Golder Ranch district said.

The driver of a second vehicle stranded in the flooded Canada Del Oro Wash was able to get out without assistance, the district said on Twitter.

Official details rescue efforts

Golder Ranch Fire District Assistant Chief of Operations Scott Robb was on his way to work on the morning of Aug. 10, but instead of heading to the fire department, he headed to the rescue call.

"The first attempt was to use the ladder from the truck and try to reach the vehicle that way, so we didn't have to put our people in the water," said Robb.

That attempt, however, failed due to the angle and rising water. Other fire crews had to step in.

"The water was rising and deep for our people, so we use the ladder to get vests for the three patients in case they fell out and floated down, and then it was determined that on the other side of the river, it was a little more shallow for them to walk in and pull the patients out one by one and get them out on the other side," said Robb

Flood warnings issued for Tucson, nearby rural areas

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings and advisories for metro Tucson and rural areas in the region.

Up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain fell in the Santa Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson while up to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain fell in less than a half-hour in Graham County, the weather service said.

Forecasters warned that runoff from wildfire burn scars could trigger mudslides and produce flows carrying rocks, mud and other debris through normally dry washes.

Robb said the Bighorn Fire that burned in 2020 has made flood rescues in 2021 more complicated.

"The really dark stuff you see in the video made it harder to rescue because we were hit by logs and debris, and root systems that were going downstream further complicated the rescue," said Robb.

Fire officials say drivers need to turn around when they see flooded washes, but if drivers are ever stranded by floodwaters, they should call 911, and then find a way to get to higher ground, preferably the roof of their cars.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report

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Road Conditions

  • Call 511 anywhere in Arizona or 1-888-411-ROAD (7623)

Rain/flood safety tips

The American Red Cross' tips for heavy rain situations and flood safety:

  • Turnaround don’t drown! If you must drive and you encounter a flooded roadway, turn around and go another way.
  • If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground.
  • Tune in to your local radio, NOAA radio, or news channels for the latest updates.
  • If your neighborhood is prone to flooding, be prepared to evacuate quickly.
  • Follow evacuation orders and do not attempt to return until officials say it is safe.
  • If power lines are down, do not step in puddles or standing water.
  • If power is out, use a flashlight. Do not use any open flame as alternate lighting.

Preparing for a severe thunderstorm 

The American Red Cross' tips for preparing for a severe thunderstorm:

  • Put together an emergency kit.
  • Know your community’s evacuation plan.
  • Create a household disaster plan and practice it.
  • Purchase a battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • Discuss thunderstorm safety with members of your household. Be aware that a thunderstorm could produce flooding.
  • Pick a safe place in your home for household members to gather during a thunderstorm. This should be a place where there are no windows, skylights, or glass doors, which could be broken by strong winds or hail and cause damage or injury.

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