Draper fire brings mudslide fears

Published: Sunday, Aug. 14 2011 11:26 p.m. MDT

Draper residents James Berger, Moe van der Sluys, Roy Ostendorf and Halston van der Sluys pass sandbags up a runoff ditch just below the burned area from Saturday evenings fire above Springdale Way in Draper on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011. With possible rains ahead, the burned mountainside may not hold moisture as well as usual, causing flooding for homes below.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

DRAPER — Sandbags are being distributed to residents and are also available for pick up at the city's equestrian center on Highland Drive in anticipation of rain that may threaten homes with mudslides.

Fire crews are continuing to mop up hot spots from a Saturday blaze that charred 65 acres and is most likely human-caused, according to Unified Fire Authority Capt. Dustin Dern.

Dubbed the Bell Canyon fire, the blaze that drew an aerial attack for suppression and prompted voluntary evacuations is in the same general area of a wildfire that consumed more than 800 acres three years ago.

That fire also came dangerously close to homes, led to evacuations and left a barren hillside that sloughed off the next year because of June thunderstorms.

The fear of a similar mudslide posing threats to property has Draper City and fire officials distributing the sandbags, dropping some off in front of homes in the area where the fire burned — east of Highland Drive between 12400 South and 13800 South and west of the Bonneville Shoreline trail.

Rain that came Saturday evening helped firefighters battle the blaze, which has been reported at 65 percent contained, according to Draper City.

Restoration of the charred area after the 2008 fire included the installation of 1,500 feet of wire fence and sediment traps above homes in Bear Creek and Cherry Creek Canyons.

The city installed hay bales and debris fences that fall, but they could not hold back the mud created by relentless June rains the next year.

Maridene Hancock, the city's public information officer, said members of the public works and police departments were on the hillside Sunday, assessing the extent of damage and mudslide-prone areas.

"I think the thing that is really good is that the fire did not go past the shoreline trail," she said. "There's been a lot of work that has been done since 2008 — between our public works department and the work done by the Forest Service — that will help the situation."

Still, she said officials are keenly aware that late summer along the Wasatch Front is often accompanied by sudden and intense thunderstorms that can drop a lot of rain.

"It will be a concern to those residents below the fire line," she said.

The city has a "hotline" relationship with forecasters at the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City who know to quickly notify Draper should a storm like that loom on the horizon.

Hancock says it helps, too, that the city has 3,000 sandbags it stockpiled in anticipation of a heavy spring runoff, plus 1,000 feet of muscle wall that can help hold back water or mud flows should they happen.

She said if residents see any movement in the hillside or flooding when it rains, they should immediately call 911.

Email: amyjoi@desnews.com. Twitter: amyjoi16

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