MONSOON 2021: Fire, flood dangers from Bighorn Fire burn scar

Published: Jun. 14, 2021 at 4:16 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 7:22 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Monsoon 2020 will be remembered for the Bighorn Fire, which burned across the Santa Catalinas.

A lightning strike from an early storm started it and the fire forced evacuations of Mount Lemmon and Catalina Foothills neighborhoods from Catalina to Redington.

The blaze burned nearly 120,000 acres before it was contained in late July.

That massive burn scar continues to have an impact as we head into Monsoon 2021.

Head down the CDO wash and you’re likely to still find ash, meshed in the sand left from the sludge that flowed down the mountain after the Bighorn Fire.

It’s a concern for Lynn Orchard with the Pima County Flood Control District.

After big fires like the Bighorn, it can take years for the vegetation to recover upstream, leaving downstream, where we are — incredibly vulnerable.

“It’s not back to normal after one or even two years, so we’re looking at mitigation projects that will help mitigate floods in the next five, seven or 10 years,” Orchard said.

The flood control district took lessons from the Aspen Fire, to hopefully help mitigate and watch for more floods this monsoon.

More than 120 flood monitoring sites are dotted around the county, and they recently added a handful more in places like Finger Rock, Pima Wash and Ventana Canyon to name a few.

“Actually a number of the sites we really rely on now were a response to the Aspen Fire, she said. “It’s kind of our first line of defense.”

They’re also improving the water flows and edges in the CDO and Pima washes and studying the sediment with the University of Arizona to see what, and how much has washed down.

For Bill Moore, his biggest concern as a former fire investigator is another fire.

“Of course our biggest problem is nature,” he said. “When lightning hits, it’s intense heat.”

Walking near his home in Vail, the dry vegetation and brush are everywhere.

“A lot of this fine fuels just waiting for some kind of a start,” Moore said. “It should be green and it’s not.”

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