Colorado flood fatalities spike after record wildfire years

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado’s flammable wilderness can lead to a double-whammy of natural disasters. Burn scars from 2020’s record wildfire blazes are a major problem for flash flooding.

The Poudre Canyon flood has claimed lives and property after heavy rain caused flash floods and mudslides in the Cameron Peak burn scar area. Scorched soil and the absence of vegetation mean land and water both slough off the earth’s surface in heavy rain or after heavy snowmelt.

Historically, there is a connection between Colorado’s flood fatalities and its bad burn years.

In the last decade, three years stand out as exceptionally damaging years for Colorado wildfires.

The number of acres burned by wildfires was larger last year than any of the last 10 with over 625,000 acres burned. In 2018, wildfires burned 475,000 acres, followed by 246,000 in 2012.

There are, of course, many factors that contribute to flash flooding. Unseasonably heavy rainfall, winter snowpack levels, road conditions and local emergency preparedness all play roles.

A chart of Colorado’s most flood fatalities, tracks along with heavy burn years.

Colorado is not typically among the U.S. states with high levels of annual flood fatalities. Some years are heavier than others, though, and those years typically come directly after Colorado’s heaviest wildfire years.

Colorado clocked 11 flood fatalities in 2013, following the 2012 burn season. In 2019, the year after the heavy 2018 burn season, Colorado saw six flood fatalities.

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