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Saratoga Springs bucket brigade bails out flooded homes

Published September 4, 2012 11:00 am

Aftermath • 3,000 volunteers show up in city to help cleanup.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Crews are digging ditches into the fire-scarred landscape above Saratoga Springs in an effort to divert future floodwaters away from neighborhoods that were struck by a mudslide Saturday night.

With a chance of rain later this week, city administrators are focusing the immediate need to protect homes below a 6,000-acre swath of bare soil and ash left by the recent Dump Fire, said Saratoga Springs City Manager Mark Christensen.

"We're doing some short-term mitigation measures that will hopefully protect us in the event of a downpour," Christensen said.

Heavy rains Saturday saturated the soil above Saratoga Springs' western bench and sent sheets of water and mud downhill, sweeping over a gully that would have channeled the flood away from the 11 homes that ultimately were damaged.

"If it had followed normal water passages, it would have missed this neighborhood," Christensen said.

Crews are plowing ditches around the gully and clearing debris that could obstruct potential floodwaters, Christensen said.

Planners meanwhile are looking to larger autumn projects, such as new retention basins and widespread reseeding, to deal with the long-term mudslide risk created by the fire. No retention basins exist above the city, Christensen said; the basin within the flooded neighborhood was completely filled with silt, which workers are trying to clean out.

"The existing retention basin was ... sized for a 100-year flood event for the homes that are built there," Christensen said. "Unfortunately, that retention basin was not sized for 2.5 miles worth of debris. ... It was such a deluge of material — water mud, rocks, ash, soot, everything — coming off the hill. It was just an amazing sight."

Engineers are working with the state to plan new basins and flood-mitigation structures on state land above Saratoga Springs. It could take weeks to design the projects and secure grant funding, Christensen said.

Reseeding the burn scar also is critical, Christensen said.

"The impact of no vegetation was the leading contributor" to Saturday's slides, he said. But until winter's rain and snow arrives, "We could throw a lot of seed out there, and we're just going to have some happy birds."

On Monday, cleanup remained the most pressing challenge. Sunny skies and pleasant temperatures Monday drew thousands of volunteers.

"We're very much in recovery phase," Christensen said. "The volunteers have been absolutely amazing."

City officials estimated at least 3,000 volunteers had flocked to the city to help residents remove silt and other debris from about two dozen homes. The nasty smelling sludge filled basements, culverts, drainage ponds and ditches.

Meanwhile, the city building inspector looked at the 11 homes that were most severely damaged by the onslaught of the fast flowing sludge and determined that all were safe for occupancy.

Volunteer electricians have been working around the clock, inspecting every damaged property. Of those, three homes had to have main breaker panels removed and restored. All other homes have had their utilities restored.