Sedona firefighters train for swift-water rescues, new Slide Fire closures

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by Tami Hoey

azfamily.com

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 6:35 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 1 at 8:53 PM

SEDONA, Ariz. -- The Slide Fire took its toll on Sedona, burning through more than 21,000 acres of  Oak Creek Canyon.

And in its wake, the fire not only left the forest devastated and the canyon stripped bare, it created a whole new set of problems. Firefighters are now trying to prepare for those issues with some swift-water training.

"Because of the Slide Fire and the hazards that the post-Slide Fire response presents to us today, we decided to go ahead and do some swift water-specific training," said Allen Schimberg of the Sedona Fire Department.

Technical rescue experts will be the ones who get the call when the unthinkable happens. And given the situation in Oak Creek after the fire, that could be almost anything.

"Mud, debris, large trees, boulders, stuff like that, off the slopes of the burned area, creating mudslide potentials, large-scale rock slides," Schimberg said. "All the way up, a large mudslide, rock slide, coming across the creek, damming up Oak Creek, coming into structures, burying homes, burying vehicles, knocking over power lines, damaging structures."

The Slide Fire has forced a lot of closures and now the new concern is for damage from rain.

"Our area of concern really is anywhere there are structures or homes, subdivisions that are on the west side of Oak Creek itself, there are several in there," he said.

Firefighters hope with the extra training and preparation, the worst can be avoided this monsoon.

In the meantime, the Coconino National Forest has expanded the Slide Fire emergency closure area to include all National Forest land within Oak Creek Canyon beginning Thursday.

The closure is being implemented for public safety due to the risks associated with flooding from monsoon, debris flow and the limited ability to quickly inform and evacuate people along Oak Creek if a flood event were to occur.

The closure boundary expansion will include all National Forest land within Oak Creek Canyon from the northern switchbacks to an area near the southern Huckaby trailhead at Schnebly Hill Road. All developed recreation sites and vehicle pullouts along state Route 89A will be closed. To view the official Closure Order and a map of the entire closure area, visit http://tinyurl.com/nmwp8co.

The closure only affects National Forest land, roads and trails within the closure area on the Coconino National Forest. The closure does not affect any private, state, county or other non-National Forest lands or roads within the closure boundary.

Additionally, the public water Sterling Springs standpipe in Oak Creek Canyon has been shut off to protect the water system from potential contamination, silt and debris during flooding.

The following information sources have been established for the public to obtain information about the status of Oak Creek Canyon and preparing for possible monsoon flooding in the canyon:

Oak Creek Canyon Information Hotline: 928-203-7505

Coconino County's Slide Fire Area Monsoon Flood Preparation Web page: www.coconino.az.gov/slidefloodinformation.
 

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