PHOENIX - On July 23, parts of Arizona saw monsoon weather, with flash flooding inundating Tucson and the surrounding area, and officials with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office reporting multiple swift-water rescues and road closures in the area.
Rescue crews ready for monsoon season
The valley did not see a wet summer in 2019 compared to years past, and stormy weather on July 23 marked, in a way, the actual start of 2020's monsoon season.
Meanwhile, fire officials are reminding people to "turn around, don't drown."
"We still have the potential every monsoon season for really deadly flooding," said Phoenix Fire Captain Rob McDade.
Cpt. McDade says people should not underestimate monsoon season, and that people can't predict when rain will come.
"The year before that, two years ago, it was a nonstop event, almost record-breaking for how many monsoons we had, how many people we had to rescue so again," said Cpt. McDade. "I think when you least expect it, it comes out of nowhere."
Cpt. McDade says drivers need to take caution, especially at night when monsoon storms usually come in. Even if road closure signs arent up, make good judgment in the rain, as taking a risk can get people stranded in floodwater.
It is hard to ignore the fact that unlike years past, 2020's monsoon season is taking place amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Cpt. McDade admits Phoenix Fire has been hit by the virus, but the department is once again fully staffed.
"So we have had our department impacted by COVID with members getting sick, being off work. We’re getting a large amount of them back, but we are fully staffed. We’re having folks working overtime, working emergency staffing so we’re fully staffed. Our trucks are fully staffed. We will not have that impact our operations," said Cpt. McDade.
Technical Rescue Teams are located strategically throughout the City of Phoenix, ready for potential flooding.
"It’s really 15 minutes into that storm event, and we got a flooded wash," said Cpt. McDade.
Arizona law contains a provision commonly known as the "Stupid Motorist Law." Those who drive through a street or highway covered in water and get stuck will be charged with the cost of the emergency response.
Monsoon flooding an additional danger for those living near wildfire burn area
Summer is a tough time for many who live where wildfires can hit, but with monsoons and heavy rain, it can be a double whammy for those residents.
"One of the things we are most concerned about is flooding downsteam," said Dorilis Camacho with the Coronado National Forest. "It can happen suddenly and debris can run off and hurt someone."
Camacho is warning people about the dangers of rain in burn scar areas, especially in areas hit with severe fires, like the Bighorn Fire in Tucson. With the damage left behind and barren lands, flooding in those areas is a concern.
"This happens because there is no vegetation to absorb the water like there was before," said Camacho.
Officials say after a fire hits an area, there will be changes the terrain, causing erosion and debris, making it extremely dangerous for anyone nearby.
"What we want people to know is it can take vegetation and habitat one to three years to grow and recover from a fire," said Camacho.
Officials with the national forest is urging people who live near those burn scars to come up with a plan to protect themselves, and pay attention to relevant lash flood warnings.