How will the York Fire affect the roads at MOJA?

Gravel road going through a burned area.
Burned over road

NPS/Michael Burchette

Flooding is a major concern after a wildfire, even in the dry Mojave Desert.The preserve is naturally prone to flash flooding because of its soil and vegetation profiles. Plant root systems help retain moisture and stabilize the soil. Plants in the Mojave are spaced out, so the landscape has a limited capacity to accept water, and the soil itself is compacted, so water doesn’t quickly penetrate the surface. Our desert soil is unable to keep up with the amount of water it receives during heavy rain events, particularly in the monsoon season. With nowhere else to go, water flows from high points on the landscape to low points, often in high volume, which creates flash flooding that can destroy infrastructure.As the #YorkFire burned through Mojave National Preserve, it removed the already sparse vegetation, decreasing the soil’s ability to absorb water and increasing the capacity for water flow to cause more damage. The preserve’s infrastructure was built to sustain rain events before the York Fire changed the landscape. This has made structures like roads, buildings, and culverts more vulnerable in post-fire rain events. Culverts in the preserve may be unable to manage the amount of water during a heavy rain event; causing roads to flood with debris, buckle, and become undercut. This creates unsafe or impossible travel conditions.The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team has been helping the preserve prepare for rainstorms that may pose threats to life, safety, and property. Team hydrologists used post-fire field data and historic rain data to create predictions about what might happen during different types of rain. They created virtual models that predict the impact of moderate, heavy, and extraordinary rain events to advise our management team on how to prepare and mitigate the effects of rain after the York Fire.Our roads allow the public to visit this special place. With the support we’ve received from the BAER team, we’re better equipped to address infrastructure vulnerabilities that might otherwise limit visitor access. We’re grateful to work with these experts!We remind visitors to “Drive Like a Tortoise” in light of the predicted rainfall this weekend. Rain events can deposit debris on preserve roads, undermine pavement, and create steep shoulder drop-offs. Wildlife is also more active after rain, particularly desert tortoises. Reach your destination safely.

Last updated: August 29, 2023

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