Monsoon preparations underway as first round of storms on horizon

Residents prepare for flooding

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The rain Wednesday served as a reminder that Monsoon is upon us, and floods often follow fires.

A newly-released map shows the areas at risk for flooding and mudslides near the Bighorn Fire burn scar, with the Mount Lemmon area seeing the highest probability of debris flow.

According to the Burn Area Emergency Response team, as little as 15 minutes of heavy rain could cause flooding. There’s also a moderate risk for parts of the Foothills and homes east of Oracle Road.

A newly-released map shows the areas at risk for flooding and mudslides near the Bighorn Fire burn scar, with the Mount Lemmon area seeing the highest probability of debris flow.
A newly-released map shows the areas at risk for flooding and mudslides near the Bighorn Fire burn scar, with the Mount Lemmon area seeing the highest probability of debris flow. (Source: National Wildfire Coordinating Group)

Taking in the stunning view from Bud Watson’s backyard, it’s easy to understand why he decided to build a home near the base of Pusch Ridge 15 years ago.

“I love it, I don’t want to leave here,” Watson said.

Living near the ridge where lighting sparked a wildfire nearly a month ago, Watson has seen how powerful nature can be.

“I was sound asleep; I think it was probably around 10 o’clock or so that I heard a loud clap of thunder. Then, the next day I realized there’s a fire up here.” he said.

While the Bighorn Fire moved east away from Watson’s home, it took some vegetation with it. The burned areas now create a potential threat.

However, Watson is no stranger to flooding.

“[Several years ago,] we had some really, really heavy rains during the Monsoon and had some water come into the back of the house,” he said. “I had to have some services come in and remove carpeting and things like that.”

Since then, he has made some changes to his home, including the installation of downspouts to direct water away from his property.

“A normal Monsoon would be just fine, I love Monsoons. It’s fun to watch as long as you’re under cover,” Watson said. I believe (my) property will be safe because the fire was quite a ways up there. I think areas (further up the ridge) will experience some mudflows.”

Oro Valley and Tucson have started providing free sandbags to help residents prepare.

Jesse Flores was busy shoveling sand into buckets at the Hi Corbett Field east parking lot on Wednesday, planning to transfer the sand into bags this weekend.

“Last year’s Monsoon got us by surprise,” Flores said. “All of the sudden, my dining room got flooded, the water was coming in through the door. Water from the alley came into my yard; it looked like a swimming pool. (The damages) came out to about $1,400.”

That was the second time Flores home flooded.

This year, he is putting out sandbags.

“I hope it works!” he said.

Experts recommend filling bags three-quarters of the way with sand, so they can easily be tied but won’t float away.

“These are not to be used as a dam, but more of a protection from your property line,” said Erica Frazelle, a Public Information Officer for the Tucson Department of Transportation (TDOT). “You want to place them in a diagonal formation to divert the water.”

This year, Hi Corbett is the only sandbag station in Tucson. People can stop by anytime but are asked to bring their own shovel and to abide by the “10 sandbags per household” limit.

Another sandbag station is open at Naranja Park in Oro Valley. People can stop by between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. There is also 10-bag limit.

Right now, residents who live near the Bighorn Fire can get flood insurance under the post-wildfire exemption. The standard 30-day waiting period will not apply.

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