Residents face flood threat from Wallow Fire

SPRINGERVILLE, AZ - The largest wildfire in Arizona history is 93 percent contained, but residents in eastern Arizona now have a new threat to worry about -- flooding.

Throughout the day Wednesday, volunteers filled hundreds of sandbags, tied them off, and stacked them behind the Greer fire station.

Crews then made countless trips to place them around homes in the area to ward off flood-water and mudslides, and keep it from rushing down the hills and into homes.

"The monsoons are coming. All this ash up on the steep hills is going to wash down into the river and plug things up, and start backing water up," said Dean Wade, a resident concerned about flooding in the area.

The Wallow Fire in Arizona's Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has burned nearly 841 square miles, including about 25 square miles in New Mexico.

The fire began May 29 and destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins. Nearly 10,000 people were evacuated at one point.

Residents who just recently returned from a lengthy evacuation are turning their eyes to the skies, as summer storms threaten to pour down now unprotected burn zones.

"It's going to be disastrous. The ones right in the fire zone are the most concerned about it. The ash, and the logs and everything washing right down on their property," said Wade.

Forest officials say it will be tough to put any measures in place before significant rains bring damaging floods.

"It depends on the intensity of the weather, and the short-term movements of the soils. In a lot of places, there's not a lot we can do," said U.S. Forestry Service spokesman Ray Rugg.

They say the best thing for homeowners to do is prepare now.

"Look at your property. Look at the slope coming down. You may consider sandbagging them," Rugg suggested.

County officials are so concerned about flooding in the burned out areas that they will be sitting down with residents individually, and discussing how to best protect their property.

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