Postwildfire Debris-Flow Hazard Assessment of the Area Burned by the 2013 West Fork Fire Complex, Southwestern Colorado

West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo from the Pike Hot Shots via Wildfire Today
West Fork Fire June 20, 2013 photo from the Pike Hot Shots via Wildfire Today

Click here to read the abstract and download the report. Here’s the abstract (Kristine L. Verdin/Jean A. Dupree/Michael R. Stevens):

This report presents a preliminary emergency assessment of the debris-flow hazards from drainage basins burned by the 2013 West Fork Fire Complex near South Fork in southwestern Colorado. Empirical models derived from statistical evaluation of data collected from recently burned basins throughout the intermountain western United States were used to estimate the probability of debris-flow occurrence, potential volume of debris flows, and the combined debris-flow hazard ranking along the drainage network within and just downstream from the burned area, and to estimate the same for 54 drainage basins of interest within the perimeter of the burned area. Input data for the debris-flow models included topographic variables, soil characteristics, burn severity, and rainfall totals and intensities for a (1) 2-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 2-year storm; (2) 10-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 10-year storm; and (3) 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, referred to as a 25-year storm.

Estimated debris-flow probabilities at the pour points of the 54 drainage basins of interest ranged from less than 1 to 65 percent in response to the 2-year storm; from 1 to 77 percent in response to the 10-year storm; and from 1 to 83 percent in response to the 25-year storm. Twelve of the 54 drainage basins of interest have a 30-percent probability or greater of producing a debris flow in response to the 25-year storm. Estimated debris-flow volumes for all rainfalls modeled range from a low of 2,400 cubic meters to a high of greater than 100,000 cubic meters. Estimated debris-flow volumes increase with basin size and distance along the drainage network, but some smaller drainages also were predicted to produce substantial debris flows. One of the 54 drainage basins of interest had the highest combined hazard ranking, while 9 other basins had the second highest combined hazard ranking. Of these 10 basins with the 2 highest combined hazard rankings, 7 basins had predicted debris-flow volumes exceeding 100,000 cubic meters, while 3 had predicted probabilities of debris flows exceeding 60 percent. The 10 basins with high combined hazard ranking include 3 tributaries in the headwaters of Trout Creek, four tributaries to the West Fork San Juan River, Hope Creek draining toward a county road on the eastern edge of the burn, Lake Fork draining to U.S. Highway 160, and Leopard Creek on the northern edge of the burn. The probabilities and volumes for the modeled storms indicate a potential for debris-flow impacts on structures, reservoirs, roads, bridges, and culverts located within and immediately downstream from the burned area. U.S. Highway 160, on the eastern edge of the burn area, also is susceptible to impacts from debris flows.

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