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Mapleton residents put up sandbags to prevent flooding near 2020 wildfire burn scar

Posted at 4:37 PM, May 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-01 22:58:13-04

MAPLETON, Utah — Around 150 Mapleton residents gathered Saturday morning to fill thousands of sandbags in a show of community support.

"Mapleton is a very special, tight-knit community," said Mapleton Fire Chief Nick Glasgow. "Everybody here, if you ask for help, they come out."

Several homes in the Ether Hollow area are at risk of flash floods and landslides after a wildfire stripped the nearby mountainside of vegetation in September of last year.

"We knew that we needed to beef up some of the defenses just in case any of that water came down," said Mapleton Sandbag Project coordinator Rick Silva.

The "Ether Hollow Fire" burned nearly 1,000 acres east of Mapleton and Springville. It was one of more than 1,200 human-caused fires in 2020, far surpassing the previous record of 937.

"Most of the east side of our city backs right up to the bench. We have a lot of wildland-urban interface," Glasgow said. "The fuels, topography and weather all came together, and that fire burned about 500 acres in about 15 minutes."

The wildfire left a massive "burn scar" on the mountain. The National Forest Service studied the area after the fire and determined it posed a serious risk to the residents living below.

"It was crazy," said area resident Michelle Baer, recalling the flames she could see from her back door. "It was frightening, it was sobering."

Baer has lived in Mapleton for more than two decades. Her home sits just below the burn scar. Based on the findings of the National Forest Service's report, the Army Corps of Engineers and NRCS modeled the flow paths of potential landslides and the damage they could cause.

"Seven feet! We're slated to get seven feet of mud in our home just because of the position," Baer said, referencing the models.

Glasgow said it would take monsoon-type rains — 1/4 inch in 15 minutes — causing flash floods for a landslide to trigger, but the community is doing all they can to be prepared for the worst.

"These people have been here for, in some cases, decades," Silva said. "They've got a lot of precious things that we'd rather not them get disrupted, their things get disrupted."

Despite preparing for a worst-case scenario, the event brought together members of the community who have been largely isolated for the last year due to the pandemic.

"I've been trying to not bawl all day long," Baer said. "The city has been amazing."

"I was surprised at how many people came," added area resident Charlee Hanna. "I did not expect this, and it's a lot of fun."

Glasgow encourages Mapleton residents, especially those living on the east side of the city, to register with the city's emergency flood alert system.

More information on flood risks and how to register for the emergency alert system can be found on Mapleton's Facebook page, or on their website.