The Aftermath of Wildfire: Flash Floods
Summer in Western Montana always promises county fairs and rodeos, outdoor folk festivals, and the treasured huckleberry season, but it also often brings about two natural hazards that can cut down our summer fun: thunderstorms and forest fires.
Even on years like this, where we’ve been lucky enough not to spend our August days hiding from smoke, the damage our mountains routinely see from wildfires makes the Missoula and Bitterroot Valleys particularly susceptible to flash flooding. Fire changes the landscape through which it burns, greatly reducing or even eliminating ground vegetation. That vegetation typically plays an important part in helping to absorb water from rainfall, and with it gone, water is left to flow freely and rapidly down steep terrain. Fires also leave behind ash and debris which, combined with heavy rain, can create mudflows that may reach structures miles away from the original site of the fire.
Because the risk of flash flooding is ongoing – an area affected by wildfire can take up to five years to adequately begin to recover ground vegetation – knowledge and prior planning are the most important components of your family and your home’s emergency toolkit. According to the National Weather Service, “half an inch of rainfall in less than an hour is sufficient to cause flash flooding.” You don’t want to wait until those summer thunderstorms strike to think about flood insurance, and you should always have an evacuation plan in case your home is affected. Ready.gov provides more information on how to build an emergency supply kit, and in the event that your home is damaged by flash flooding this summer, SERVPRO of Missoula is here for you.