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Final residential evacuations lifted as flooding expected on wildfire burn scars

By Ashley Stilson And Katie England daily Herald - | Oct 1, 2018
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Jan Newman, far right, an Elk Ridge resident, places a sandbag on a pallet as other volunteers bring more sandbags to stack onto it on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge. Newman and other residents of Elk Ridge worked to fill and place sandbags around their community to prepare for the expected storm tomorrow.

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Tracy, right, and Angie Lofthouse, left, Elk Ridge residents, work together to fill sandbags on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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Volunteers fill sandbags near the bus turnaround on Loafer Canyon Drive on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge. The sand was brought in by dump trucks and placed throughout the community to be used in sandbags.

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A Utah County Public Works truck dumps sand at the turnaround on Loafer Canyon Drive on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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From left, Steve, Liz, Connie, and Anita Ault place sandbags onto a section of waterproof plastic in front of Anita's garage on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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Anita Ault, left, and her mother, Connie Ault, place sandbags onto a section of plastic in Anita's garage on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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Sandbags line Loafer Canyon Drive on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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Volunteers place sandbags in the back of a pickup truck on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge. The bags were distributed around the community to help line the road and driveways.

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A volunteer ties a sandbag on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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Steve Ault places a sandbag on the end of a water diversion in front of his daughter's house on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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Tyler Goold, 16, takes a break after filling sandbags on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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Water droplets from a rain shower sit on filled sandbags on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018, in Elk Ridge.

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A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team arrived at the Bald Mountain and Pole Creek fires to lead wildlife recovery for the federal lands on Monday, October 1, 2018.

As of 7 p.m. Monday, the Covered Bridge community will no longer be under mandatory evacuation, according to a Tweet from Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.

The community has been under mandatory evacuation since Sept. 13, when the Pole Creek fire came close enough to threaten structures. The area will remain under pre-evacuation status.

“Residents please limit trips in/out as firefighters will still be active in the area,” Cannon’s Tweet said. “Because of the risk of debris flows it is recommended that they NOT sleep in their basements.”

Residents who just weeks ago worried their homes might burn down are now doing everything they can to protect them from potential flooding.

A flash flood watch began Monday afternoon for southern Utah. By Tuesday morning, central and northern Utah will be under a flash flood watch, and the burn scars left by the massive Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires create the potential for severe flooding in neighboring communities like Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge.

According to the National Weather Service Office in Salt Lake City, most areas are likely to receive about 1 to 2 inches of rain from the oncoming storms.

Community members living near burn scars and fire areas are warned to prepare for flooding, mudslides and debris flow, officials reported.

Hundreds of volunteers worked Monday evening to fill sandbags to line Loafer Canyon Road in Elk Ridge in an effort to protect homes.

Two crews tackled dozens of tons of sand, bagging it then stacking the bags in a way intended to divert the water along the road and away from homes.

Monday alone, volunteers are expected to fill about 20,000 sand bags, and 30,000 were completed Sunday, said Jan Newman, who headed up one of the work sites.

The sandbags are places and trenches are dug in such a way that channels the water to Loafer Canyon Road, where it will then be directed into a large natural gully away from homes, Newman said.

“Normally, vegetation absorbs rainfall, reducing runoff. However, wildfires leave the ground charred, barren, and unable to absorb water, creating conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflow,” a press release from the Region 8 Federal Emergency Management Agency stated.

Meanwhile, residents are hoping for the best.

“We had a really good sprinkle here today,” Newman said. “And we’re hoping that maybe dampens some of this up in the mountains so it won’t be quite as slick when it comes out of there, but we’ll wait and see.”

Kari Malkovich, a Woodland Hills city councilwoman, also warned residents in a community Facebook group that parts of the city may have to be evacuated again for flooding.

“We remind you that mudslides and flooding can occur quickly,” Malkovich said in the Facebook post. “Please be alert and immediately follow any city notices and instructions.

For homes close to the mountain, Malkovich also encouraged residents to avoid sleeping in basement areas, as those are more prone to mudslide damage.

Conditions are such that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert activated the Utah National Guard Monday.

“Approximately 200 soldiers with the Utah National Guard’s 204th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and 300th Military Intelligence Brigade are currently reporting under State Active Duty to assist in flood mitigation efforts in Utah County,” said a press release from the Utah National Guard. “Particular areas of interest include the Woodland Hills and Elk Ridge areas recently devastated by wildfires.”

Those efforts include bagging sand and placing concrete barriers in areas of potential flooding, the press release said, and several automatic sand baggers will be sent to the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds.

Other personnel and equipment will be pre-positioned at or near the Spanish Fork Armory, the release said.

“With heavy rains headed toward Utah, flash flooding is a risk for these communities,” Herbert said in a news release. “In this instance, I would much rather be safe than sorry, and we are putting strong protections in place.”

A Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team arrived at the Bald Mountain and Pole Creek fires Monday morning to lead wildlife recovery for the federal lands.

The first phase of wildlife recovery is fire suppression repair, where crews minimize soil erosion from activities like digging and bulldozing fire lines.

On Monday, crews with the California Type 1 Incident Management Team focused on restoring the roads and areas where fire lines were constructed during both wildfires.

Officials reported the Bald Mountain Fire reached a total of 18,620 acres with 97 percent containment during the weekend. The Pole Creek Fire is 81 percent contained at 102,188 acres.

Evacuations in the Covered Bridge area, Right Fork Hobble Creek and Diamond Fork areas are still in effect as crews continue working in the areas.

Low temperatures and increased rain are expected throughout Monday, with more rain expected on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Rosa approaches the West Coast.

September was one of the driest months on record compared with past years, according to the National Weather Service Office in Salt Lake City.

A weather station at Brigham Young University reported only finite traces of rain last month, breaking the old record of .03 inches of rain in September 1928.

A flood watch is different from a flood warning, the weather office stated. A flash flood watch means conditions are favorable for flooding, and residents should be watchful and prepared. Issuing a flash flood warning means a flood is imminent or occurring, and residents should move to high ground.

For now, areas in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho and Arizona are just under a flood watch, the weather office stated.

As of 7 p.m. Monday, the Covered Bridge community will no longer be under mandatory evacuation, according to a Tweet from Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office. 

The community has been under mandatory evacuation since Sept. 13, when the Pole Creek fire came close enough to threaten structures. 

The area will remain under pre-evacuation status.

“Residents please limit trips in/out as firefighters will still be active in the area,” Cannon’s Tweet said. “Because of the risk of debris flows it is recommended that they NOT sleep in their basements.” 

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