|Monday, Jul 18, 2011|
The Las Conchas Fire burned 20,800 acres, or 62 percent, of Bandelier National Monument. Once the smoke cleared, a new danger emerged – the imminent threat of flooding in Frijoles Canyon due to the forecasted monsoonal rains. Frijoles Canyon contains the largest concentration of prehistoric cultural sites, the historic Civilian Conservation Corps district, the monument’s only visitor center and administrative offices, a picnic area, several popular hiking trails and 12 employee residences. In addition, the monument had recently completed a $3.2 million visitor center expansion and exhibit upgrade project in 2010. The rapid response of several organizations was vital to the effort to protect these valuable resources.
On Thursday, July 7th, resource advisors from the National Weather Service and the Burned Area Emergency Response team assessed the resource damage and evaluated the potential impacts to the monument in the event of monsoonal flooding. The NWS and BAER recommended implementing point protection and removing bridges that could form dams to protect facilities and resources in Frijoles Canyon. On Friday, July 8th, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reviewed and concurred with the recommendations. Late that same day the USACE provided 32,000 sandbags and rolls of visqueen plastic for the project.
The NPS Intermountain all risk management team and the monument staff began immediately to implement the recommendations. Work began on Friday to dismantle seven foot bridges and one vehicle bridge. This project was completed by Saturday afternoon, with sand from the bridge demolition being recycled and used to fill sandbags.
On Saturday, July 9th, two 20-person hand crews, Navajo Scouts 1 and 2, began work on the incident. They were trained by USACE staff to properly and safely fill sandbags and then correctly construct diversion walls. Between 10 a.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday these crews filled, transported, and stacked approximately 14,000 sandbags weighing 40-50 pounds each. They also constructed a 600’ plywood diversion wall around the visitor center and administrative building with plywood, visqueen plastic, and sandbags. In addition, over 700 feet of Jersey barriers were acquired, some of these loaned by local businesses, and used to create diversion walls around the visitor center and along Frijoles Creek.
The dedication and diligence of all parties involved has been truly amazing. These cooperative efforts have been accomplished quickly and safely, and will hopefully drastically reduce the impact of potential flooding on the invaluable resources at Bandelier National Monument.