Mudslides and Debris Flows Associated with Wildfires

September 11, 2019 - by Terrance J. Zich Wildfires.jpg

Every year, wildfires burn millions of acres of land across North America. With the severity, occurrence and cost of wildfires increasing every year, the aftermath of these catastrophes — which can include devastating impacts to soils and vegetation — is resulting in an evolving environmental disaster. In this paper, we will discuss mudslides and debris flows caused by wildfires, impacts of mudslides and debris flows on structures, and outline what can be done to control and mitigate soil erosion and other environmental issues after wildfires.

We discuss this in more detail in our white paper.

An Overview of Mudslides and Debris Flow

The severity, occurrence and economic impacts of wildfires is increasing every year. This increase brings substantial risks for mudslides and debris flows in affected areas. Following a wildfire or mudslide/debris flow, it is important to seek advice from geotechnical, civil and structural engineers who can evaluate soil conditions and assess affected foundations, structures and infrastructure, in addition to recommending corrective techniques to reduce future risks. 

Environmental Effects After a Wildfire

Wildfires result in widespread loss of forest and undergrowth, which greatly changes the look and nature of the landscape. Typically referred to as the burn scar, the burned land surfaces caused by a wildfire are partially to completely devoid of vegetation. Extreme heat exposure from wildfires can kill microbes, alter soil texture and sterilize the soil several inches deep, although recolonization is generally rapid and can actually increase after a wildfire due to the flush of nutrients. This rapid change in landscape greatly affects the ground cover and erodibility of the ground. Since it takes several years for vegetative stands to recover, it is not unusual for mud and debris flows to form during the first few wet seasons after a wildfire.

Download our white paper to read more and learn:

  • Environmental Effects After a WildFire
  • Debris Flow
  • Areas Affected by Wildfires to Debris Flow
  • Soil Erosion Control After Wildfires 

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