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Long recovery after Seeley Fire

Forest Engineer Seth Wallace points out the debris basin and log debris racks constructed at South Hughes Canyon.
Roads and trails are still considered hazardous.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Now that snow has begun to blanket Huntington Canyon, some of the slopes in the upper reaches have begun to look like some sort of abstract painting: hundreds of short black lines drawn on a pure white background.

Each black stroke was once a tree. But that was before the Seeley Fire last summer.

While the fire damage to the 48,000 acres of forest land was bad, and even worse insult to the land was to come. Torrential rainfall - a 75-year storm - pounded the barren earth, causing floods, erosion and extensive damage to the highway, campgrounds and trails of the Manti-LaSal National Forest. It altered the landscape.

"If you remember, Crandall Creek used to flow right into Huntington Creek," said Forest Engineer Seth Wallace during a recent tour of the canyon. "Huntington Creek is now about four feet lower and Crandall Creek comes in as a little waterfall."

Damage is apparent elsewhere in the canyon. At Horse Canyon, the flood undercut Highway 31. Elsewhere, debris clogged culverts, creating small lakes.

A gigantic logjam created a temporary lake at the Left Fork Campground. A little rivulet along a trail at Pole Canyon has widened into a deep gully.

USFS soil scientist Bob Davidson explained how rainwater can gain such awesome force after a fire.

When the soil is barren, each raindrop picks up particles when in slams into the earth. Those suspended dirt particles make the fluid much more dense that the one gram per milliliter of purse water.

The heavier fluid is much more buoyant than water, so it can carry bigger, heavier debris and hit with more kinetic energy.

That is why the 28 campgrounds and 20 trails in Huntington Canyon were damaged or destroyed, even though they were unharmed by the fire.

"We'll probably leave them closed this coming year, then assess them from a safety standpoint," said District Ranger Darren Olsen.

While the campgrounds may be closed, there has been and will be recovery efforts under way. The Forest Service approved $1.9 million in emergency funding based on recommendations from the Burned Area Emergency Response team.

The money is going for activities such as seeding, mulching, and various earthworks to prevent or contain floods.

Wallace pointed out a few of the recovery efforts under way.

Debris basins at Nuck Woodward, Engineers and Hughes are three of the seven earthen structures the Forest Service has constructed. The basins contain and slow flood waters, while log debris racks act like big strainers.

Nuck Woodward Road had significant repairs for stabiliation, debris removal and grading along its entire seven-mile length.

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