Reflections and lessons learned from the Coal Creek Canyon Flood a decade later

Jo Davis
Posted 9/15/23

The Coal Creek Canyon Association recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of the 2013 Coal Creek Canyon Flood.

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Reflections and lessons learned from the Coal Creek Canyon Flood a decade later


The Coal Creek Canyon Association recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of the 2013 Coal Creek Canyon Flood. The Jefferson County Historical Commission’s annual publication Historically Jeffco stated that the flood is one of five historic floods in Jefferson County in the 21st century. The flooding began with exponential rains on Sept. 9. The fallout from the rain would isolate communities like Coal Creek Canyon until November 11, when a major, highway 72, reopened after serious damage repair.

Historic floods

According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials website, the Sept. 2013 flood was the result of “an unusual, late season storm event where warm moisture and upslope winds allowed this regional storm to dump up to 17 inches of rain over a seven-day period.”

The storms hit along the Front Range. According to the Denver Post, the event took nine lives and destroyed about 2,000 homes. It also washed out several major arteries inside and out of Jefferson County. There were no deaths in Coal Creek Canyon. The damage was still extensive.

Suzy Schemel, manager of the Coal Creek Canyon Community Center, remembers the flood well.

“It was a 100-year flood,” Schemel said. “The canyons were hit all the way to the North Estes Park and Lyons. All of the canyons, including Boulder Canyon was down.”

Schemel described the damage in other communities, to say that Coal Creek Canyon was not the worst hit. However, the community did take a few months to get back on their feet.

The community comes together

“So, our canyon was hit really hard, but we were only down until Nov. 3,” Schemel said.  

It created problems getting out of the canyon from September to November when Highway 72 reopened.

“Golden Gate (Canyon Road) wasn't hit," Schemel said. "So, the only way we could get out of our canyon was to kind of wind our way over to Golden Gate and come down Golden Gate Road, and then we would be in Golden. Or, we could go up to 119 that way through Golden Gate and be like in Idaho Springs, they have a safe way up there. That's the only way we could get out. It was just really horrible.”

Inside Coal Creek Canyon, the community was reeling from all the damage, according to Schemel. She explained that they did have help from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the state of Colorado, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, the American Red Cross, Xcel Energy and others.

“That was our support,” Schemel said. “It took them a while, you know. But people didn't have gas, with the Xcel lines broken. As you come up the canyon, they were just hanging loose up in there. So, once the gas was out, people didn't have hot water. It was pretty dramatic, the impact of (gas line damage).”

There wasn’t any loss of electricity in Coal Creek Canyon, but the school was out for a few months.

Schemel said the community accepted the help, but they also came together to help one another.

“People lost their houses, but nobody died in our canyon,” Schemel said. “Everyone pulled together.”

She said they even worked as a community to get the local businesses up and running.

“And we all just got together and started digging," she said. "The first thing we did was dig out our liquor store.”

Once the liquor store was running, the Coal Creek Canyon residents started on the Quick Mart, and then other businesses and homes followed.

Remembering September 2013

Schemel said that the recent commemoration of the September 2013 flood was to come together and remember those moments when the community came together to save their town. Coal Creek Canyon Community Center now has a monument to remember that day.

Schemel calls it “our rock.”

“Canyon Pines donated it,” Schemel said, referring to Canyon Pines, a residential community located at 64 Canyon Pines Drive in Arvada. “We had it engraved with the flood dates and thank you to the first responders. And then we put two benches and some grass and flowers and stuff. So, it can be a reflection spot. People can stop, sit there and think about it or whatever. It's, you know, it's kind of a permanent tribute.”

Lessons Learned

The memories are the only things that were taken away from the September 2013 flood event.

Jefferson County Sherrif’s Deputy Emergency Manager Erika Roberts explained that the Sept. 2013 event changed the way federal, state and county governments handled such emergencies.

“FEMA has changed the way they do things and updated national doctrine, the (Colorado) state’s programs have evolved and grown," Roberts said. “The Sheriff's Office and (Jefferson) County have built upon programs that existed in 2013. They’ve grown in capacity and capabilities based on lessons learned locally, at the state and federal level.”

Jefferson County Public Health Epidemiology, Planning and Communications Director Christine Billings said her agency learned a lot about its own abilities.

 “The 2013 Coal Creek Canyon flood confirmed that JCPH has strong partnerships with many of our associate agencies,” Billings said. “JCPH had timely access to the correct contact information for its associates, and they were able to quickly connect with the right people during this incident. JCPH was able to successfully share information with healthcare coalition partners, which created good situational awareness. JCPH was able to successfully coordinate the provision of personal protective equipment for first responders, to include access to vaccinations.”

According to Billings, this lesson helped Jeffco Public Health seven years later when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the county.

Roberts urges all Jeffco residents to review the Jefferson County Emergency Management site for resources, tips and tools for preparing for a flood or any other natural disaster. Find that information on the Jefferson County website’s Emergency Preparedness page.  

For more information on the commemoration, check out

Coal Creek Canyon, flood


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