After the devastation of the Telegraph and Mescal wildfires, fears of post-fire flooding came true over the Fourth of July weekend. Days of rain over the burn scar sent torrents of black water and debris down Pinal Creek. Flooding also hit Russell Gulch, Bloody Tanks Wash, Claypool and Wheatfields. At least 15 homes were damaged by the rushing waters and mud.
The following Tuesday, Gila County Public Works Director Steve Sanders told the Board of Supervisors that the rain started Friday, July 2. He said a rain gauge in Six Shooter Canyon recorded more than three inches over the weekend, while gauges on Signal Peak and in Russell Gulch recorded 1.89 and 1.54 inches respectively.
On Friday, Sanders said, water and flood-borne debris covered about half a mile of Russell Road, nearly rose over a box culvert at the entrance to Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center and flooded out a mobile home. The road was cleaned up Saturday, but Russell Gulch started running again after more rain that afternoon. Saturday’s storm temporarily closed the entrance to the hospital and brought water to Bloody Tanks Wash, Ice House Canyon and Kellner Canyon. Pinal Creek floodwaters even ran through downtown Globe, though that stretch of the creek stayed within its banks.
The storms weren’t finished. On Sunday afternoon a localized storm inundated a number of roads in Claypool and Wheatfields. Sanders said some Wheatfields residents reported more than three inches of rain. In Claypool, the water lifted up the asphalt on parts of Calle de Loma.
According to Sanders, the Six Shooter Canyon rain gauge recorded 1.5 inches Sunday afternoon and evening – and the canyon would be one of the harder-hit areas.
“The flood hit about 5:15 (Sunday),” Bob Corley, who lives on Six Shooter Canyon Road, said from the seat of a small tractor he was using to clear debris from his land. Corley and his wife Yvonne were out of town, but rushed back after two calls from a friend. In the first call, Corley told the Arizona Silver Belt, their friend assured them it was only sprinkling. “Then, 15 minutes later, he called and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. You’d better get back here.’ ”
The Corleys made it back in time to save their two horses, but it was a close call. Their corral was swept away; the horses had made it into the barn, where water was up over their bellies. “They were terrified, just shaking,” Corley said. “Had we not gotten to them before dark, I have no idea what would have happened. We expected at least one of them to be gone.” Another friend of the Corleys took in the rescued horses.
Sanders told the county supervisors there was “substantial damage all the way down Six Shooter (Canyon Road),” adding that he personally observed three to four feet of water in two homes. Water-borne debris took out roadside fences, and the flood carried off a pair of Conex boxes, one of which traveled over half a mile; both were later recovered.
The Corleys’ house, being on a higher elevation, escaped damage; however, in addition to the horse corral their entry gate and a foot bridge across Pinal Creek were swept away. Black mud filled their horse trailers and a pop-up camper; logs and brush were piled up on the property. “We’ve been trying to move debris with the little tractor, trying to get it to where we can make another corral,” Corley said. He added that he planned to build a second, “rain event,” corral on higher ground.
He said that on Monday, at least 10 people – neighbors, friends and family – came to help clean up. “It was wonderful to have the help. Everybody could see we got completely wiped out, so they came over that next morning.” The Corleys got more help last Wednesday when Bob signed a cooperators agreement with the county, paving the way for contractors to clear the larger debris from their property.
Starting July 5, contractors hired by the county were at work in Six Shooter Canyon and on Calle de Loma, and Gila County Health & Emergency Management was conducting door-to-door damage assessments. Some of the residents displaced from their homes due to flood damage received hotel vouchers from the American Red Cross, while Gila County Community Services was assisting others with longer-term arrangements.