Coronado National Forest
U.S. Forest Service
300 W. Congress St.
Tucson, AZ 85701
A Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessment team continues to gather information and analyze data for the area burned by the Bighorn Fire; however, it is certain that watershed conditions changed as a result of the fire.
It is common for watersheds draining the Santa Catalina Mountains to experience flooding during the monsoon season, even without the loss of vegetative cover from fire. The terrain is steep and rocky and sheds water easily.
To prepare for the potential increase in runoff and flooding that could occur after the Bighorn wildfire, the Coronado National Forest (CNF) recently received funding from the Forest Service Southwestern Regional Office to install emergency stabilization measures to reduce potential impacts to life and safety on National Forest System lands.
These initial and interim BAER emergency treatment requests fund the CNF to install emergency warning signs at selected intersections and access points within and around the current and projected fire perimeter. Other funded BAER stabilization actions will ensure that the Sabino dam spillway is cleared of debris and vegetation to restore spillway capacity. Also approved was funding to provide support to the Pima County Regional Flood Control District for installation of two additional weather ALERT stations within the burned area. Currently, there are 11 stations within the Bighorn burned area. These approved BAER treatments mitigate potential life and safety risk to the public and Forest Service employees by protecting the integrity of roads for emergency egress from Summerhaven, providing emergency access to Rose Canyon Dam, allowing access to critical infrastructure including vegetation removal above the Gibbs Wash and Stratton Wash bridges to prevent debris dam development, replacing seven heat compromised plastic culverts between Catalina Highway and Rose Canyon Dam, and installing debris guards to protect culvert inlets on roads. Approved BAER treatments that protect public health include: pumping, sanitizing and securing three vault toilet structures in campgrounds around Rose Canyon Dam that may be subject to elevated inflows and have the potential to release their contents, and the construction of an earthen diversion berm that will direct overland flows around the Palisades Wastewater Sewage Lagoon.
To assist downstream and adjacent private land owners and businesses, the Forest Service is sharing the BAER assessment team’s analysis and coordinating closely with Pinal and Pima County Flood Control and Offices of Emergency Management (OEM), fire and emergency jurisdictions, the National Weather Service (NWS), the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the US Geological Survey (USGS).
In many cases, there will be little that can be done before the monsoon season to reduce flooding and potential debris flows, but there are steps that residents can take beforehand. Residents should expect flooding, remain vigilant and be prepared.
Homes or businesses that could be impacted by flooding from federal land that resulted from wildfires may be eligible for flood insurance coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Information about NFIP is available through FEMA at www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program. Also, the NWS-Tucson office created a Bighorn Burn Scar website that provides information on how the public can prepare for potential flash flooding and debris flows: https://www.weather.gov/twc/bighorn-burn-scar.
SPECIAL NOTE: Everyone near and downstream from the burned areas should remain alert and stay updated on weather conditions that may result in heavy rains over the burn scars. Flash flooding may occur quickly during heavy rain events-be prepared to take action. Current weather and emergency notifications can be found at the National Weather Service website: www.weather.gov/twc/.