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Utahns brace for rainstorms, flash floods

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 4:02 p.m. MDT

An American flag is situated above sand bags in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) An American flag is situated above sand bags in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A series of rainy days with more in the forecast has Utahns looking warily at the sky as a flash flood watch lasting into Friday has been placed over most of the state.

In the past 10 days, more than 4 inches of rain has fallen in southern Utah near Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Escalante and Panguitch, while the central mountains have taken on 5.6 inches — including 2.74 inches Wednesday, KSL meteorologist Kevin Eubank reported.

More storms moving in from the south will cross the state over the next two days, bringing possible bursts of precipitation that can prove damaging, Eubank said. Up to a half-inch of rain is possible over northern Utah, including over burn scar areas, he said.

Saratoga Springs resident Marjilee Booth lives just below the burn scar from the 2012 Dump Fire and has done what she can to get ready for the rain.

Rachele Walker looks over her muddy front yard in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Rachele Walker looks over her muddy front yard in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"We're all living on prayers, I think," she said.

Booth, who uses a wheelchair and has a prosthetic leg, said she's not able to do much to fortify her house against debris flows and has to rely on neighbors and friends to help out.

Booth said she was told last week her house was safe. "An hour later, (city crews) come and started bringing dirt up, and I looked out and I had a lake out there," she said.

Booth said city crews piled dirt behind her home and on the side of her house to keep debris out.

"I feel pretty safe. I just don't know (what will happen)," she said.

Brooke Vick, another Saratoga Springs resident, said her family has built up their window wells and put covers over them to prevent their basement from flooding — again.

A deer walks past some sand bags near a home in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) A deer walks past some sand bags near a home in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"We're kind of capped out for what we can do," she said. "I mean, just short of putting sandbags in front of our yard, which … we did last year, and if we had to do again we would."

Vick said she has attended city meetings to give input and support.

"We as homeowners, there's really nothing else we can do," she said. "You stress every single time it rains."

Jeremy Vick, Brooke's husband, said he wishes more had been done for his family and neighbors right after the fire, before flooding or debris flow was an issue.

"I just feel frustrated because they didn't do things to prevent it," he said. "They didn't do anything. … Right after the fire, why weren't there precautions taken right away?"

Remains of last year's fire can be seen in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Remains of last year's fire can be seen in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

In Alpine, the city's public works crews have been working to clear out debris basins for 48 hours, said Lone Peak Fire Battalion Chief Joe McRae.

"They have done all the work they can to make sure all the drains and culverts are cleaned out," McRae said. "So at this point, we're just praying for light rain if we get any."

Alpine finance officer Annalisa Beck said the city sent out automated voice mails, emails and text messages to alert residents in case of heavy rainfall.

"On Saturday night, we used it for volunteers," she said, "and 10 minutes after we sent out the call, we had 200 volunteers. It was really amazing."

KSL meteorologist Grant Weyman said rain is expected over the next few days. Alpine and Saratoga Springs residents "should be on the watch, so to speak, from now all the way to Saturday," he said.

Signs of last year's fire are seen in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Signs of last year's fire are seen in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Weyman said some of the heaviest rainfall has been in southern Utah.

In Hurricane, several streets were closed after flooding Wednesday when they were filled with large amounts of debris. According to Hurricane Police Sgt. Brandon Buell, several homes and basements were flooded in the area.

Utah Division of Emergency Management spokesman Joe Dougherty said state mitigation teams worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy four weather stations to put in areas with burn scars.

"They'll stay there for about two years," he said. "Then we move them to other locations, if any of the fires this year necessitate that."

Dougherty said people should consider flood insurance, have an evacuation plan and an emergency preparedness kit.

Burned trees are seen in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Burned trees are seen in Alpine Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. With more rain in the forecast, Alpine residents are expecting more flooding after a fire burned much of the vegetation and trees on the mountain above the city. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

"It's really difficult when (people) live in an area below a burn scare because the debris can come down a hill with so much force that, a lot of time, it can overwhelm sandbags and some retaining walls," he said.

Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said the four weather stations were put in Alpine, Saratoga Springs, Oak City and Fountain Green.

McInerney said the weather stations are programmed to send updates every hour, and more frequently if there is more rain.

Alpine residents could see debris flow if they get a half-inch of rain in 30 minutes, likewise for 1 ¼ inches of rain in an hour in Saratoga Springs.

"They're working great," McInerney said of the weather stations. "They send us data. Before we even issue a flash flood warning, we'll call the people that need to get the information."

Local firefighters teamed up with residents, neighbors and friends to divert flood waters from reaching houses in the 600 East and 200 North area in Alpine on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Local firefighters teamed up with residents, neighbors and friends to divert flood waters from reaching houses in the 600 East and 200 North area in Alpine on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

Contributing: McKenzie Romero

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com Twitter: EmileeEagar

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