By Beth Dodd:
A fast moving thunderstorm targeted 6/10 of an inch of rain onto the Waldo Canyon burn scar above Williams Canyon around 4:15 p.m. on Monday afternoon, sending muddy water and debris into Fountain Creek in Manitou Springs. The water rose roughly 5 feet within a few short minutes according to one local business owner who witnessed the water’s rapid approach.
Around 4:40 p.m. Manitou Springs issued a Reverse 911 call notifying locals of flooding near U.S. Hwy 24 and Manitou Ave. Teller County warned residents of the closure of U.S. Highway 24 in both directions soon after.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office says that 20 homes in Manitou have been damaged by the flooding, six to eight of them significantly. Fortunately, no injuries have been reported. Popular creekside businesses in Manitou like Adams Café, the Cliff House, and the Poppy Seed are undamaged, but are dealing with a messy clean-up job as they remove sooty, gooey muck from their patios and sidewalks.
According to the Manitou Springs Police Department, most of the damaged homes are on Canon Avenue. Arial news footage showed damage to the homes and the road underneath the Highway 24 bridge over Williams Canyon. Canon Avenue was closed, with mud and debris clogging the street and surrounding cars up to their hub caps. The Manitou Springs Police Department also said that a gas line was broken. Colorado Springs Utilities was helping with repairs.
Westbound Highway 24 was closed from 31st Street in Colorado Springs to Fountain Avenue in Cascade from around 5:45 p.m. until around 7:15 p.m. At least three CDOT snow plows worked to remove the mud and debris from U.S. Highway 24 as rush hour traffic backed up in both directions, with some Ute Pass commuters detouring through Canon City. U.S. 24 was blocked near Cave of the Winds between mile markers 296 and 298.
163 people were evacuated from the Fountain RV Park near 31st and U.S. Highway 24 on the west side of Colorado Springs. Two Red Cross shelters were opened for flood evacuees at the First Congregational Church of Manitou Springs at 103 Pawnee Ave in Manitou Springs and the First Presbyterian Church at 105 N Weber St. in Colorado Springs, but soon closed again as they were not needed for long. A second RV Park near 21st Street was put on pre-evacuation status while police looked for any homeless people that might be camped along the creek to warn them of their peril.
A flash flood warning remained in effect over the area until 7:30 p.m. Local law enforcement warned residents from Cascade to Manitou Springs and along the Colorado Ave corridor all the way to Interstate 25 to be prepared to move to higher ground if necessary. Tuesday’s forecast calls for a 30% chance of thunderstorms in the Manitou Springs area.
While some residents expressed surprise and dismay that only half an inch of rain was able to trigger this flood event, the flooding comes in the wake of a slew of community preparedness meetings warning residents about the strong possibility of events such as this in the wake of last summer’s Waldo Canyon Fire. In an area already prone to flash flooding, the burn scar greatly increases the likelihood of damaging flooding because the fire-exposed soils are less able to retain water.