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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Déjà Vu All Over Again

(FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.) I am feeling something between nostalgia and déjà vu.

You see, it seems the floods in the Schulz Fire area northeast of Flagstaff are occurring again. This isn’t breaking news, per se; there were accurately predicted to occur last summer following the Schultz Fire, which scorched more than 15,000 acres in the mountains bordering Flagstaff. They are expected to occur primarily during monsoon season each year for at least a few more years.

That fire itself was extremely reminiscent of the Radio Fire in 1977, which began on the southern base of Mount Elden and ran up and over that Flagstaff landmark, destroying radio dishes and tower equipment at the top of the mountain, thus the moniker.

My neighborhood chums and I who lived on lower Alta Vista Drive watched the fire start and grow; at first, we thought it was a massive barbecue in Bushmaster Park or perhaps a Babbitt family reunion. And the smoke didn’t abate. And the slurry bombers arrived, and the carpet of coals that were burning trees glowed through the night, a sight familiar again when the Schultz Fire burned last year.

It might seem that rain would be the perfect antidote for a forest fire – and in some cases, it’s certainly welcome – but when it rains on a forest area that has been denuded by fire, especially on a slope, like a mountainside, flooding becomes the hazard. A forest floor burned free of vegetation cannot effectively absorb water, and like a barren moonscape baked by the sun, that forest floor becomes a smooth tabletop that transports water quickly. The result: flooding.

And flooding is exactly what residents in the Schultz area are contending with this week, and this is becoming the monsoon season that wouldn’t die. I recently returned from a multi-month deployment to Coconino County where I worked as the public information officer there during the crucial summer monsoon months. Without having historical data at my fingertips, I’m relying solely on memory as a Flag native when I say this past monsoon season didn’t seem particularly heavy. But it doesn’t take rain of biblical proportions to cause damaging floods in those fire-affected areas near Flagstaff. (Note: This picture was taken at the Bellemont National Weather Service near Flagstaff in August. Their set-up is pretty impressive.)

The forecast for Flagstaff this week calls for chances of rain from 10 percent, which is next to no chance, and 80 percent, which is a veritable certainty. In the middle of that is the chance of rain and snow on Thursday night and Friday.

I used to love the monsoon rains, but peering out the window of my office in the Coconino County Administrative Center to look at gathering storm clouds and knowing it meant my NOAA weather radio could soon be sounding off a flood alert, not to mention people’s lives and property could be endangered, zapped a lot of allure out of those storms.

Here's to a mild autumn in Flagstaff. It can't arrive too soon.

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