LYONS, Colo. (CBS4) – In early September of last year, historic rains started falling across Colorado. By the time the downpours stopped, devastating flooding had damaged property across almost 2,000 miles, washed out hundreds of miles or roads and damaged dozens of bridges. Nine people died in the flooding.
The first victim came in Lyons on the night of Sept. 11 as the waters rose in the small Boulder County community. Eventually the flooding left the town completely cut off.
But inside the town were a group of leaders who were prepared.
In the case of Fire Chief J.J. Hoffman, the possibility of a massive flood had worried him since he took the post. He grew up in Lyons and knew just how vulnerable it was to flooding that usually occurs in the spring.
On Sept. 11, what he saw on the rivers had him worried.
“We had been watching the river because of the the previous few days of rainfall,” Hoffman said.
He took a look at the rain gauges in the river and saw the water rising quickly. “It made us a little nervous, knowing it was continuously dumping rain that night.”
Hoffman was not alone in his worries. Kevin Parker is a sergeant with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. He had once been stationed in Lyons and was well aware of the potential for disaster. About 240 square miles of terrain drains right into Lyons.
Both men credit Dan Barbour, another Boulder County deputy who also worked in Lyons, with raising the alarm years earlier.
“Dan had made a model of this drainage out of cookie dough and Playdough and took it a town meeting to show the need for sirens,” Parker recalled.
It took a bit of convincing but the town bought those emergency sirens. They were activated in the early hours of Sept. 12 as the rescuers in the field realized just how dangerous the situation had become.
Hoffman had headed out with his team on a swift water rescue, a call Parker heard when he arrived in Lyons.
“I heard the fire department out on a rescue call on the North St. Vrain (River) so I went up there with Chief Hoffman,” Parker said. “At that point the water was already coming over the road so I came back to town to start organizing things while he stayed there.
“We never got out of town from there.”