Officials: Waldo Canyon Fire scar poses a 10-year flash flood threat

Manitou Springs residents dig out from muddy flood

MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. - Manitou Springs residents were digging out Tuesday after a flash flood in the Waldo Canyon burn area sent a wall of mud and water slamming into homes.

Authorities said 20 homes were damaged, including three that were total losses.

Officials said mountain communities will face flash flood threats for 10 years, until new vegetation heals the damage done by the June 2012 wildfire that scorched more than 18,000 acres west of Colorado Springs. The firestorm killed two people and destroyed 347 homes.

"When your skin is burned it doesn't work correctly. The same thing happens with soil," said Kathy Russell, Emergency Preparedness Planner for El Paso County. "A great deal of the Waldo Canyon burn, burned the soil so severely, it does not absorb water right now."

"A little bit of rain, instead of soaking into the soil, will all run off. This is why we're seeing flash flooding happen with not a lot of rain," Russell told 7NEWS reporter Lindsey Sablan. "And this is what we will expect to see for the next 10 years."

More than a half-inch of rain fell in 20 minutes Monday, triggering a runoff that caused Fountain Creek to swell to four feet.

Home video showed the muddy flood roaring down mountain roads, carrying boulders, logs, cars and other debris with it.

John Marhoffer was at a rental property he bought a week ago when he heard a rumbling and decided to move his Dodge Durango across the street.

"I walked from the bridge to the car, got in and started my ignition," Marhoffer told 7NEWS reporter Lance Hernandez. "And in 20 seconds, 30 seconds, this happened that fast," the man said, gesturing to mud and tree limbs that engulfed the rental home, filling its interior with sludge and knocking over furniture and appliances.

"I have a newfound respect for flash flooding," Marhoffer said. "What really shocked me about it is how fast the water went right through. It was 20 minutes, maybe 25 minutes after the sun was out and everything was almost dry that we heard a rumble upstream, uphill and within 30 seconds all this debris was here."

Now county officials are developing strategies to counter the flood threat.

Russell said officials are looking at additional training for first-responders, so they're as ready to respond to flash floods as they are to wildfires. They also need to reseed the burn scar.

"All of our jurisdictions are working closely together to look for grant funding opportunities to put up protective measures," Russell said.

 This includes installing TrapBag flood barriers -- walls of fabric bags filled with dirt or sand that are linked side-by-side like an accordion to shield buildings from floods.

"Each one of these structures is like a very small bandage on a very large wound," Russell said. "They can help somewhat, but they cannot cure the problem. Only time can do that."

Manitou Springs Police Chief Joe Ribeiro took responsibility for the city's new emergency siren system failing to sound the alarm.

"I was standing here watching this creek rise in the danger zone and I was pushing the button and didn't hold the button long enough to actually launch the sirens," the chief said.

But, thinking quickly, Ribeiro had officers turn on the sirens in their police cars to warn people.

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