Officials rush to finish flood mitigation work in Gladiator fire area
County and federal officials are scrambling to work on flood control measures in the Gladiator fire area before any heavy monsoon rains fall.
Little of the work will be complete today. The National Weather Service is forecasting a 30-percent chance for early monsoon rain today, followed by clear skies the rest of the week. It hasn't rained in Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains since April 26. Monsoon rains generally begin shortly after Independence Day here.
The Gladiator fire burned 16,240 acres between May 13 and June 13, mostly on the Prescott National Forest but also on private land. A house fire about a mile north of Crown King's block-long business district ignited the blaze.
Officials have identified nine homes that are especially in danger of flood damage, Yavapai County Emergency Management Coordinator Denny Foulk said. Most are located along Gold View Lane, while the other is located at the Peck Mine. Three have full-time residents.
"We've been notifying folks up there," Foulk said. "Should it start raining and people notice water rising, they should get out of there."
He's generally telling people to watch out if the area gets at least a quarter-inch of rain within a 15-minute time period.
Officials are asking residents to also be prepared by stocking up on supplies and monitoring weather forecasts through NOAA weather radios or the Weather Service Internet site at weather.gov/Flagstaff.
Foulk delivered 2,000 sand bags to the Crown King Fire Department on Saturday.
The Weather Service expects the Gladiator wildfire to create more flooding in the Crown King area than the 2008 Lane 2 fire, said George Howard, science officer for the Weather Service office in Flagstaff.
"It's pretty likely that the Crown King road is going to have to be closed because of a washout," he said.
The Crown King-Cleator road is the main road into this small, historic mining community located about 20 miles south of Prescott. It's a steep, winding dirt road, and the fire burned steep, boulder-covered mountainsides right down to the road.
If the Crown King-Cleator road washes out, the only way out might be the road that winds down the other side of the Bradshaws into Wagoner to the west.
The Forest Service paid Yavapai County to grade the Wagoner road so firefighters could use it as an escape route, and now it can serve as an escape route for Crown King residents, Foulk said.
"It was a win-win deal," he said, and two-wheel-drive vehicles currently can traverse it.
The only other way out for Crown King residents besides a harrowing road south to Lake Pleasant is the Senator Highway that runs north to Prescott, and it's currently closed. The Senator is passable right now but flooding in the fire area also could seriously impact that road, Foulk said.
Yavapai County road crews already are clearing debris out of culverts on the Crown King-Cleator road and they plan to clean out water catchment basins above the culverts by early next week, Public Works Director Byron Jaspers said.
The county is considering larger culverts in some spots along the road, too. Most of the culverts are 24-30 inches in diameter.
A road grader is stationed at Crown King and a backhoe is stationed at Spring Valley, Jaspers said.
"Every time it rains, we'll send somebody up there to patrol the road and make sure it's open," Jaspers added.
The Forest Service will conduct aerial seeding and mulching on 103 acres, said Dave Moore, head of the agency's Burned Area Emergency Response team for the fire. It's taking bids early this week.
The county hopes to get private property owners' permission to seed and mulch 29 private acres to slow down potential flooding. The federal government would reimburse those costs, Foulk said.
Mark Massis of the Yavapai County Flood Control District is installing flood gages on at least four strategic spots in the wildfire area so the National Weather Service will have more on-the-ground data about potential flooding. He hopes to complete the installation this week. The Maricopa County Flood Control District already has some gages in the Crown King area.
The new gage sites will be in an unnamed canyon near the Peck mine above the Crown King-Cleator road; Lincoln Ridge where the fire originally burned about a mile north of the Crown King business district; on the ridge between Peck and Bear canyons; and near Senator Highway and Tuscumbria Mountain and mine.
The first three gages will monitor water flowing down the east side of the southern Bradshaws into Turkey and Poland creeks that feed the Agua Fria River, while the last gage will monitor water flowing down the west side of the southern Bradshaws into Blind Indian Creek and then the Hassayampa River.