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Probability and volume of potential postwildfire debris flows in the 2012 High Park Burn Area near Fort Collins, Colorado

Author(s): Kristine L. Verdin, Jean A. Dupree, John G. Elliott
Year Published: 2012

This report presents a preliminary emergency assessment of the debris-flow hazards from drainage basins burned by the 2012 High Park fire near Fort Collins in Larimer County, 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 and volume of debris flows along the burned area drainage network and to estimate the same for 44 selected drainage basins along State Highway 14 and the perimeter of the burned area. Input data for the models included topographic parameters, soil characteristics, burn severity, and rainfall totals and intensities for a (1) 2-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall (25 millimeters); (2) 10-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall (43 millimeters); and (3) 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall (51 millimeters). Estimated debris-flow probabilities along the drainage network and throughout the drainage basins of interest ranged from 1 to 84 percent in response to the 2-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall; from 2 to 95 percent in response to the 10-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall; and from 3 to 97 in response to the 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall. Basins and drainage networks with the highest probabilities tended to be those on the eastern edge of the burn area where soils have relatively high clay contents and gradients are steep. Estimated debris-flow volumes range from a low of 1,600 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 were also predicted to produce substantial volumes of material. The predicted probabilities and some of the volumes predicted for the modeled storms indicate a potential for substantial debris-flow impacts on structures, roads, bridges, and culverts located both within and immediately downstream from the burned area. Colorado State Highway 14 is also susceptible to impacts from debris flows.

Citation: Verdin KL, Dupree JA, and Elliott JG. 2012. Probability and volume of potential postwildfire debris flows in the 2012 High Park Burn Area near Fort Collins, Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1148, 9 p.
Topic(s): Post-fire Management, Post-fire Rehabilitation, Erosion Control
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Technical Report or White Paper
NRFSN number: 18725
Record updated: Dec 11, 2018