The burn scar runoff typically throws mud and debris across the road in several locations, but heavy rainfall the past several days has also contributed to falling rock in many of our canyons. —Kevin Kitchen
DUCHESNE — Heavy storms dumped more water onto already-saturated soil in Duchesne and Emery counties, causing flooding and mudslides that forced the closure of three state roads and a county road.
The closures began Wednesday night in Emery County when mud, boulders and debris clogged state Route 29 between Orangeville and Joes Valley, and state Route 31 between Huntington and Fairview. A county road in Cottonwood Canyon was also closed due to flooding and mudslides, said Emery County Sheriff's Capt. Kyle Ekker.
"Flash flooding is hitting us pretty hard right now," Ekker said.
The rain continued to fall, on and off, all day Thursday.
In Duchesne County, a driver called dispatchers in Vernal about 6:40 a.m. to report water, mud and debris flowing across U.S. 191 in Indian Canyon. By the time the storm cell had passed, the two-lane highway between Duchesne and Carbon counties was blocked entirely in at least two places.
"This is actually the worst I've seen it," said Kevin Jensen, who travels through Indian Canyon at least once a month.
"I've seen it look bad in a couple places," he said, "but this is the worst."
By about 10:30 a.m., crews reopened one lane to traffic after cutting a channel through a 3-foot-deep layer of mud in one section of the highway and scraping another section free of dirt and debris.
The situation was much different in Emery County, where the burn scar from the 2012 Seeley Fire along state Route 31 continues to cause major headaches whenever it rains.
"The burn scar runoff typically throws mud and debris across the road in several locations, but heavy rainfall the past several days has also contributed to falling rock in many of our canyons," said UDOT spokesman Kevin Kitchen.
As for the damage to state Route 29, it's left some people living near Joes Valley Reservoir stranded in their homes, the sheriff's office said. They are not in danger, according to authorities, who say they are maintaining contact with residents in the area.
Drivers are being asked to avoid all canyon roads in the area, Ekker said.
"If you don't have to travel, stay out of the main drainages," he said. "Motorists should use caution traveling up any canyon, as hillsides have become saturated from these storms."
Anyone visiting the canyons is encouraged to have an alternate exit route.
"Don't expect — even if you go up (a canyon road) — to come back down it in the next few days," the captain said.