Flagstaff is recovering from flooding that hit a 2019 burn scar

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Summer floods in Flagstaff swept vehicles down streets and damaged homes, mostly in the burn scar that was left by the museum wildfire. We spoke with Flagstaff Public Works Director, Andy Bertelsen about what happened and what’s being done to keep it from happening again.

“It’s been a rough summer. What we’re seeing right now is a drying period and we’re super grateful for that drying period. We’ve had some great monsoon rains in terms of moisture and we’re really happy to receive that moisture. Especially given that we haven’t had much rain over the past two years,” Bertelsen said.

Bertelsen explained that for the last two years, what Flagstaff has had is what they locally call, “the non-soons. It really hasn’t rained much and this summer, it has. But when it rains, it pours…on a burn scar. We had the museum fire that occurred in 2019…and we started preparing for post-fire flooding immediately after that fire two years ago but we really didn’t get the rain events on that burn scar. Well, this summer we have.”

Flagstaff has had multiple rain events. The last one, in mid-August, leaving about three inches of rain in a short amount of time in about an hour. That was a significant flood event, “well beyond the 100-year flood event…fortunately we have about 800-thousand sandbags out into the community,” Bertelsen said.

Flagstaff has expended almost $8-million to date in clean-up and mitigation efforts.

“We just continue to work on trying to protect our community from these post-fire flows,” Bertelsen said.

He continued that, “we are battling an undefeated opponent and that’s mother nature.”

This burn area has been hit time and time again. Bertelsen said it’s been difficult for residents and it’s emotionally exhausting.

He said the congressional delegation is fully supportive and they have the infrastructure bill that will come into play hopefully soon. With that, they would hope there would be funding to utilize for some long-term mitigation strategies.

Andy Bertelsen, Flagstaff Public Works Director

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