Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5104
Debris flows are fast-moving, high-density slurries of water, sediment, and debris that can have enormous destructive power. Although debris flows, triggered by intense rainfall or rapid snowmelt on steep hillsides covered with erodible material, are a common geomorphic process in some unburned areas, a wildfire can transform conditions in a watershed with no recent history of debris flows into conditions that pose a substantial hazard to residents, communities, infrastructure, aquatic habitats, and water supply. The location, extent, and severity of wildfire and the subsequent rainfall intensity and duration cannot be known in advance; however, hypothetical scenarios based on empirical debris-flow models are useful planning tools for conceptualizing potential postwildfire debris flows. A prewildfire study to determine the potential for postwildfire debris flows in the Pikes Peak area in El Paso and Teller Counties, Colorado, was initiated in 2010 by the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities. The study was conducted to provide a relative measure of which subwatersheds might constitute the most serious potential debris-flow hazards in the event of a large-scale wildfire and subsequent rainfall.
First posted October 4, 2012
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Elliott, J.G., Ruddy, B.C., Verdin, K.L., and Schaffrath, K.R., 2012, Estimated probabilities and volumes of postwildfire debris flows—A prewildfire evaluation for the Pikes Peak area, El Paso and Teller Counties, Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5104, 26 p.
Pikes Peak Study Area
Debris-Flow Regression Models
Estimated Probabilities and Volumes of Postwildfire Debris Flows
Summary and Conclusions