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One dead, three missing after flash floods sweep mud and debris from wildfire scars into Poudre Canyon

Larimer County has closed the Poudre River to all use as crews assess damage to bridges downstream of Black Hollow Creek and attempt to remove debris from the road and river.

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About an inch of rain fell in the Cameron Peak burn scar above Black Hollow Road in Poudre Canyon on July 20, 2021, triggering flash flooding that spilled mud, rocks, trees and structures 6 feet deep on Colorado 14. At least one person died and two others are missing. (Poudre Valley REA)

One person is dead and at least three others are missing after flash floods sent debris flowing into Poudre Canyon northwest of Fort Collins on Tuesday night.

More than an inch of rain fell in the Cameron Peak fire burn zone near Crown Point, washing debris into the Poudre River near Black Hollow Road, upstream from the village of Rustic.

Authorities found a woman’s body in the muddy debris Tuesday night, but were unable to recover it, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said on his Facebook page. He said divers will try again Wednesday and emergency crews will continue search efforts on foot and with drones. 

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A resident of Black Hollow Road, an enclave of homes and cabins on the south side of the river, described to the sheriff a “fairly typical rain” coming down prior to the flooding, according to the post. He said that the washing of soil and trees came as a complete surprise. 

Debris from the mudslide destroyed at least five structures and damaged the road, according to the Larimer Sheriff’s Office. A car was also swept into the river.

Wednesday afternoon, the sheriff closed the Poudre River to all use, from the Fish Hatchery to the mouth of the canyon, likely through the weekend. The order will allow crews to work safely as they remove debris near the Black Hollow Road bridge and further downstream.

The Sheriff’s Office said engineering crews also are checking for structural damage to bridges further downstream because large amounts of debris, including trees, mud, rocks and structures, washed into the river. “We do not know what hazards exist currently and may arise as water continues to flow,” the office said in a news release.

Rescue and recovery crews found the body of the woman who was killed in the flooding. They are still are hunting for the three missing people — two men and one woman — authorities said.

There were at least six mudslides in Poudre Canyon on July 20, 2021, after about an inch of rain fell in the Cameron Peak burn scar above Black Hollow Creek. Some, like this one, were less severe. But one spilled mud, rocks, trees and structures 6 feet deep on Colorado 14 a few miles west of Rustic at Black Hollow Road. At least one person died and two others are missing. (Poudre Valley REA)

Colorado 14 was shut down in both directions through Poudre Canyon due to the severe flooding and six mudslides above the Cache la Poudre River between Rustic and Cameron Pass, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. It has since reopened.

The most significant of the slides was west of Rustic at mile point 87, where 6 feet of debris piled on top of the roadway, according to Michelle Peulen, a CDOT spokeswoman.

A U.S. Geological Survey map outlining debris flow hazards in the Cameron Peak fire’s 326 square-mile burn zone points to dozens of areas above Colorado 14 where debris could wash into the Poudre River. The USGS map shows several drainages where the likelihood of debris flows following an inch of rain in less than an hour is 80% to 100%. Many of those high-likelihood drainages funnel into Black Hollow Creek.

The U.S. Geological Survey map of the Cameron Peak Fire burn zone shows dozens of areas where the threat of debris flows is elevated following heavy rain. (Provided by the USGS)

Burn scars from Colorado’s largest wildfires have plagued the state this summer as heavy rains wash tons of soupy mud and debris onto roads and highways. The closures are likely to continue, even as forest botanists work to stabilize and restore the burn zones.

More damage is possible in areas of the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome burn scars in Larimer County Wednesday. The area is under a flash flood watch from noon to 8 p.m., the National Weather Service said. 

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office was notified of flooding about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday and about 6 p.m. a mudslide fell near Black Hollow Road, the sheriff’s office said in a news release.

“During this event, we evacuated the canyon, not knowing how this debris might impact persons and property downstream. Mandatory evacuations were lifted later in the evening,” Smith wrote in his Facebook post. “However, forecasts for Wednesday include the possibility for similar weather in coming days. The risk of debris flow damage remains and we caution any resident or visitors in the canyon to remain vigilant.”

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Utility crews restored power to about 30 buildings Tuesday night, according to Poudre Valley REA. There are still about 100 without power and some outages could last multiple days, the utility company said.

Debris and mud also spilled onto Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, stopping traffic once again, Tuesday night. The highway remained closed Wednesday, according to CDOT as crews work to clear five slides. Vehicle and recreational traffic through the canyon has been shut down multiple times in the past month when mud slid from the Grizzly Creek burn scar or when weather conditions suggested slides might be possible.

Authorities will continue to monitor the area for flash floods, CDOT said. 

Crews are also working to clear 8 feet of mud from three separate mudslides along Colorado 133, CDOT said. The roadway was closed at mile marker 53 north of Redstone, with one lane of alternating traffic. 

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.


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