A torrential rainstorm on September 1, 1994 at the recently burned hillslopes of Storm King Mountain, CO, resulted in the generation of debris flows from every burned drainage basin. Maps (1:5000 scale) of bedrock and surficial materials and of the debris-flow paths, coupled with a 10-m Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of topography, are used to evaluate the processes that generated fire-related debris flows in this setting. These evaluations form the basis for a descriptive model for fire-related debris-flow initiation. The prominent paths left by the debris flows originated in 0- and 1st-order hollows or channels. Discrete soil-slip scars do not occur at the heads of these paths. Although 58 soil-slip scars were mapped on hillslopes in the burned basins, material derived from these soil slips accounted for only about 7% of the total volume of material deposited at canyon mouths. This fact, combined with observations of significant erosion of hillslope materials, suggests that a runoff-dominated process of progressive sediment entrainment by surface runoff, rather than infiltration-triggered failure of discrete soil slips, was the primary mechanism of debris-flow initiation. A paucity of channel incision, along with observations of extensive hillslope erosion, indicates that a significant proportion of material in the debris flows was derived from the hillslopes, with a smaller contribution from the channels. Because of the importance of runoff-dominated rather than infiltration-dominated processes in the generation of these fire-related debris flows, the runoff-contributing area that extends upslope from the point of debris-flow initiation to the drainage divide, and its gradient, becomes a critical constraint in debris-flow initiation. Slope-area thresholds for fire-related debris-flow initiation from Storm King Mountain are defined by functions of the form Acr(tan ??)3 = S, where Acr is the critical area extending upslope from the initiation location to the drainage divide, and tan ?? is its gradient. The thresholds vary with different materials. ?? 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Wildfire-related debris-flow initiation processes, Storm King Mountain, Colorado