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Analysis and mapping of post-fire hydrologic hazards for the 2002 Hayman, Coal Seam, and Missionary Ridge wildfires, Colorado

July 5, 2005

Wildfires caused extreme changes in the hydrologic, hydraulic, and geomorphologic characteristics of many Colorado drainage basins in the summer of 2002. Detailed assessments were made of the short-term effects of three wildfires on burned and adjacent unburned parts of drainage basins. These were the Hayman, Coal Seam, and Missionary Ridge wildfires. Longer term runoff characteristics that reflect post-fire drainage basin recovery expected to develop over a period of several years also were analyzed for two affected stream reaches: the South Platte River between Deckers and Trumbull, and Mitchell Creek in Glenwood Springs. The 10-, 50-, 100-, and 500-year flood-plain boundaries and water-surface profiles were computed in a detailed hydraulic study of the Deckers-to-Trumbull reach.

The Hayman wildfire burned approximately 138,000 acres (216 square miles) in granitic terrain near Denver, and the predominant potential hazard in this area is flooding by sediment-laden water along the large tributaries to and the main stem of the South Platte River. The Coal Seam wildfire burned approximately 12,200 acres (19.1 square miles) near Glenwood Springs, and the Missionary Ridge wildfire burned approximately 70,500 acres (110 square miles) near Durango, both in areas underlain by marine shales where the predominant potential hazard is debris-flow inundation of low-lying areas.

Hydrographs and peak discharges for pre-burn and post-burn scenarios were computed for each drainage basin and tributary subbasin by using rainfall-runoff models because streamflow data for most tributary subbasins were not available. An objective rainfall-runoff model calibration method based on nonlinear regression and referred to as the ?objective calibration method? was developed and applied to rainfall-runoff models for three burned areas. The HEC-1 rainfall-runoff model was used to simulate the pre-burn rainfall-runoff processes in response to the 100-year storm, and HEC-HMS was used for runoff hydrograph generation.

Post-burn rainfall-runoff parameters were determined by adjusting the runoff-curve numbers on the basis of a weighting procedure derived from the U.S. Soil Conservation Service (now the National Resources Conservation Service) equation for precipitation excess and the effect of burn severity. This weighting procedure was determined to be more appropriate than simple area weighting because of the potentially marked effect of even small burned areas on the runoff hydrograph in individual drainage basins. Computed water-peak discharges from HEC-HMS models were increased volumetrically to account for increased sediment concentrations that are expected as a result of accelerated erosion after burning. Peak discharge estimates for potential floods in the South Platte River were increased by a factor that assumed a volumetric sediment concentration (Cv) of 20 percent. Flood hydrographs for the South Platte River and Mitchell Creek were routed down main-stem channels using watershed-routing algorithms included in the HEC-HMS rainfall-runoff model.

In areas subject to debris flows in the Coal Seam and Missionary Ridge burned areas, debris-flow discharges were simulated by 100-year rainfall events, and the inflow hydrographs at tributary mouths were simulated by using the objective calibration method. Sediment concentrations (Cv) used in debris-flow simulations were varied through the event, and were initial Cv 20 percent, mean Cv approximately 31 percent, maximum Cv 48 percent, Cv 43 percent at the time of the water hydrograph peak, and Cv 20 percent for the duration of the event. The FLO-2D flood- and debris-flow routing model was used to delineate the area of unconfined debris-flow inundation on selected alluvial fan and valley floor areas.

A method was developed to objectively determine the post-fire recovery period for the Hayman and Coal Seam burned areas using runoff-curve numbers (RCN) for all drainage basins for a 50-year period. A

Publication Year 2005
Title Analysis and mapping of post-fire hydrologic hazards for the 2002 Hayman, Coal Seam, and Missionary Ridge wildfires, Colorado
DOI 10.3133/sir20045300
Authors J. G. Elliott, M.E. Smith, M.J. Friedel, M. R. Stevens, C. R. Bossong, D. W. Litke, R. S. Parker, C. Costello, J. Wagner, S.J. Char, M.A. Bauer, S.R. Wilds
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2004-5300
Index ID sir20045300
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse