Wildfires are always a huge concern that can change landscapes and ground conditions. Wildland fires can burn portions of watersheds, resulting from burn scars that can increase the potential for floods.
Under normal conditions, unburned vegetation, like trees and grass, can easily absorb water from rainfall. Wildfires eliminate normal conditions making surfaces unable to absorb water. Moisture bounces off the soil in areas or structures near the burn area, increasing flood risks.
Two hazard types exist from burned watersheds: Flash floods and debris flows. The odds significantly increase for flash floods when fires burn in upstream areas. After wildfires, it takes less rainfall to result in flash floods. Quickly developed thunderstorms can produce debris flows and flash flooding quickly, leaving a short amount of time to warn the public. Floods in burned areas are also larger and can cause more extensive damage in places that were previously considered safe.
Debris flow from flash floods can include trees and gravel but behaves like water. The possibility of flash flooding depends on the amount of time the ground has to heal, the regrowth of vegetation, and the severity of wildfires on landscapes.
Mudflows are also a hazard in areas affected by wildfires. High rainfall near burned areas creates major erosion from the ground, picking up boulders and burned trees along the way with very little warning. Mudflows are extremely dangerous and fast that can strip vegetation, block drainages, and threaten human safety. People who survive mudflows have described the sound as cracking and roaring.
Post wildfire flood and debris flow risk can last up to five years. While weather patterns can be unpredictable, creating an extensive warning system and installing dentist control structures can help lower risks.