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Sad Day At Philmont

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To this day I used floor-less, zipper-less tents in questionable camp areas.  And as soon as one starts feeling wet, you move to higher ground.   Never been in a flash flood, but I've had my share of creek risin's over the years.  In questionable areas, I have always been the one who picked the lowest ground so that I would be the first to raise the alarm.  Only needed to do that once and it was not really an emergency situation, just annoying.

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Looking at that footage and the map of the camp sites it would appear they were camped too close to the creek bed, on flat land without much elevation relief. Given how wet the spring had been across the southwest, and the weather present that whole week, it would seem (in my opinion) that Philmont staff should have been advising crews to camp higher up from the creek bed.

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The CBS article posted is consistent with recollections told to me by various staff members at Philmont this summer. 

Schiff, I highly doubt they'll ban zipper tents. Philmont's current policies do not allow the kind of tents you describe. Something to do with hantavirus and keeping out the critters that carry them. 

Edited by Sentinel947

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The CBS article posted is consistent with recollections told to me by various staff members at Philmont this summer. 

 

Schiff, I highly doubt they'll ban zipper tents. Philmont's current policies do not allow the kind of tents you describe. Something to do with hantavirus and keeping out the critters that carry them. 

Makes sense, back then a bear poked his head in our tent.

 

The issue of quit exit from zipper tents has been raised before though fire was the concern. Two zipper doors and hi-viz zipper pulls were mentioned as soultions.Having a knife handy helps.

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I think looking at tents is treating a symptom, not a cure. From my understanding, they were camped about 20 feet higher than the creek in question, but the storm was upstream, and sent a wall of water downstream. Communications between Base camp and the closest camp, Metcalf Station, were spotty due to the power loss. There was actually two floodings that occurred that night. 

One hit the staff camp known as Ponil. The Ponil creek overflowed and ripped the directors cabin off the foundation. He awoke to the cabin sliding, and broke a window to make his escape. Luckily, the building hit a tree, and was held there. 

The other was in North Ponil Canyon, which despite the name, is what most of us would call a Valley. Everything is bigger out West I suppose. Rain and hail hit Metcalf Station, knocking out power, and sending a wall of water down the creek when the hail melted, since the ground was already saturated. Staff at Metcalf station lost all of their possessions in the flooding there. Unfortunately the lad from California was killed as well. 

Philmont needs to review it's procedures, but I think ultimately this event was unusual. Philmont has received this much rain since the 1960's. I went through that area a week and a half after the events. It was incredibly humbling to view the devastation. 

I saw their ranger too. He had a great reputation with our ranger. Probably blamed himself a bit, you could just see it written all over his face. 

Sentinel947 

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Philmont has had floods before when communications were worse.

  - Camp above high water mark. Even 20ft above stream may be below the high water mark for that camp.

  - Quick exit from tent which may be moving, rolling, sinking, or burning.

 

Glad that ranger was able to break a window to exit cabin.

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All this is good info. What bothers me most is the rainfall totals throughout Texas and the southwest were well above normal during the spring and winter. The onset of the summer monsoons were also historically higher than normal. This should have been a fair warning to the professionals in charge. These were historic conditions; meaning historic high water marks would be in danger of being overtaken.

 

If you look at the camp map and the video of where the camp sites were in relation to the cabin, they were camping well below the high water mark.

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I wonder to what degree part of the issue is lack of familiarity with the local terrain and weather, and thus with the likely hazards?

 

The only time in my life I have ever given any thought to flash flood risk while setting camp was at Philmont, I have never once camped anywhere else that I had to give the matter any significant thought. In the types of terrain I otherwise camped in, and the weather patterns of those areas, it simply wasn't ever an issue anywhere else.

 

I suspect quite a few troops and crews at Philmont are similarly unfamiliar with selecting campsites in topography with high risk of flash floods. 

 

I would be careful of placing too much emphasis on high water marks. I know I have camped in places well below the high water marks (including on an island), and yet was quite safe because it was the entirely wrong time of year for a flood on that body of water. I know of people that camped near bodies of water with no record of dangerous floods that were lucky to escape with their lives.

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If one is local to the area they may be more cognizant of the hazards or in the case of others a healthy sense of paranoia helps too.

 

I grew up in the northern Midwest.  We camp in the woods and along side of rivers all the time and very few around me take into consideration factors that I have, over the years, just took as part of my site selection.  High winds, lightning and tornadoes are a way of life for us.  Dead trees are lightning magnets as well as producing Widow Makers as an added attraction.  It takes a  bit to make the creek rise around here, but they do and can do quickly.  The problem is with the vegetation knowing where the high water mark is impossible.  One just has to guess.  

 

I have camped around the country and found that each of the locations have different hazards to be aware of and  before camping in any of them it would be wise to brush up on them.  It's always "Safety First" when taking care of your boys.  I know of others who have found out that snakes love to share sleeping bags when visitors provide the opportunity.  It doesn't happen around here, we just enjoy the equine encephalitic and West Nile virus mosquitoes, Lyme's ticks and the occasional rabid visitor.     A very dear friend of mine died of encephalitis after being bitten by a mosquito on a scout outing..... it was WINTER camp in a cabin!  No one saw that one coming. 

Edited by Stosh
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I agree and I'm sorry to hear about your friend. That risk is always in my mind when I am in areas of the world where tropical diseases of all kinds are available. Those unexpected tragedies are always available and knowing they're there gives greater appreciation for every moment of life. It can all be taken away so quickly.

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Update:

Sacramento  scout Andrew Evans was honored with the BSA Medal Of Honor with Crossed Palms for saving lives at Philmont in 2015 ,

Andrew prevented two tents from being swept away during a flash flood in New Mexico. He was honored by the Sacramento city council and given the highest award in Scouting. Source link below includes video. This report did not mention Philmont by name.

http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/video/3790237-sacramento-teen-honored-for-saving-the-lives-of-3-boy-scouts/

From KDAT.com back in Oct, 2015

http://www.koat.com/article/new-details-released-after-fatal-philmont-scout-ranch-flood/5067176

The group was on a 12-day trek across the Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico when a flash flood overran its camp. Officials said eight of the trek participants were Boy Scouts. One adult ranger and three crew leaders were with the group.

Heavy June rains through the night caused a flash flood.

"You heard trees snapping in the background and then we got hit with a wall of water," Scout Andrew Evans said.

Investigators said the floodwater swept four Scouts away from the campsite, which was situated about 18-20 feet above a small creek that runs through the bottom of Ponil Canyon.

The creek is normally 2-3 feet wide and 10-12
inches deep. When the flash flood occurred, water surged through the canyon approximately 20-23 feet deep and about 100 yards wide.

Some of the Scouts were able to get out, but the water was rising quickly.

"Enough to where you wanted to get out of there as quick as you can," Evans said.

The wall of water eventually claimed the life of Alden Brock, 13.

"I was in the mud searching, calling his name out," said Ben Heninburg, an adult on the trip.

The 13-year-old's body was found a mile away.

Law enforcement officials were stunned by the aftermath. The area where the teen's body was found got nearly 7 feet of water.

His tentmate, Logan Reed, told police that the two couldn't open the zipper of their tent. Reed found a hole in the tent, but by the time he tried to tell Brock, it was too late.

Edited by RememberSchiff

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19 hours ago, RememberSchiff said:

Update:

Sacramento  scout Andrew Evans was honored with the BSA Medal Of Honor with Crossed Palms for saving lives at Philmont in 2015 ,

Andrew prevented two tents from being swept away during a flash flood in New Mexico. He was honored by the Sacramento city council and given the highest award in Scouting. Source link below includes video. This report did not mention Philmont by name.

http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/video/3790237-sacramento-teen-honored-for-saving-the-lives-of-3-boy-scouts/

From KDAT.com back in Oct, 2015

http://www.koat.com/article/new-details-released-after-fatal-philmont-scout-ranch-flood/5067176

The group was on a 12-day trek across the Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico when a flash flood overran its camp. Officials said eight of the trek participants were Boy Scouts. One adult ranger and three crew leaders were with the group.

Heavy June rains through the night caused a flash flood.

"You heard trees snapping in the background and then we got hit with a wall of water," Scout Andrew Evans said.

Investigators said the floodwater swept four Scouts away from the campsite, which was situated about 18-20 feet above a small creek that runs through the bottom of Ponil Canyon.

The creek is normally 2-3 feet wide and 10-12
inches deep. When the flash flood occurred, water surged through the canyon approximately 20-23 feet deep and about 100 yards wide.

Some of the Scouts were able to get out, but the water was rising quickly.

"Enough to where you wanted to get out of there as quick as you can," Evans said.

The wall of water eventually claimed the life of Alden Brock, 13.

"I was in the mud searching, calling his name out," said Ben Heninburg, an adult on the trip.

The 13-year-old's body was found a mile away.

Law enforcement officials were stunned by the aftermath. The area where the teen's body was found got nearly 7 feet of water.

His tentmate, Logan Reed, told police that the two couldn't open the zipper of their tent. Reed found a hole in the tent, but by the time he tried to tell Brock, it was too late.

This is so heartbreaking.  I feel so for the leaders and the tentmate that wasn't able to save his buddy.  :-( 

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