RALEIGH - On Saturday evening, July 16, 2016, flash flooding struck west-central Wake County, North Carolina, as a line of storms produced concentrated rainfall and significant localized flooding. Between three and seven inches of rain fell within a few hours.
The Raleigh Fire Department was dispatched to dozens of emergency calls and requests for service, including at least thirteen reported structure fires, three of which were simultaneous working fires. There were numerous water rescues and motor-vehicle collisions, including a multi-patient incident with four traumas on Interstate 40 at South Saunders Street.
Early into the severe weather, the fire department switched to a storm response mode. This reduced the number of units dispatched to fire alarm activations and other response types. Personnel were also sent to the emergency communications center to help direct dispatchers with prioritizing calls, and assist with managing fire department resources.
As the call volume increased and available resources decreased, responses were withheld to fire alarms and downed power lines.
Ten water rescue calls were dispatched between 9:15 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. Seven of the calls were for vehicles in flooded roadways, at locations ranging from Lake Boone Trail at the Beltline, to Atlantic Avenue and Hodges Street. The streets around Crabtree Valley Mall also flooded, and crews responded to three calls there.
Firefighters rescued, removed, or assisted around forty people. Seven stranded motorists were walked to safety by Ladder 4 at the intersection of Avent Ferry Road and Trailwood Drive. Over twenty people were rescued or assisted at apartments in the 5300 block of Dana Drive. This was the most significant of the evening's water rescue incidents.
The call on Dana Drive was dispatched at 10:12 p.m. for Engine 2, with additional units subsequently added. Engine 2 arrived and found a flooded roadway, and swift water conditions above a normally shallow creek. Six people were trapped in the raging water, five clinging to debris and one in a tree. Others were stranded in nearby apartments due to rising waters.
Rescue 1 arrived, along with USAR 801, a swift-water rescue unit staffed by Engine 21. They deployed an inflated NRS raft, which was used to rescue the six people. The rescuers also used a motorized Zodiac boat to remove two adults and three children from an apartment. Two other adults were walked out. Water rescuers also included Squad 14 (deployed from the opposite end of Dana Drive) and Car 51 (USAR commander).
Water began receding quickly after the rain stopped. All other residents at the apartments were sheltered in place, until the water levels were safe enough for Red Cross and the property owners to assist and assess damage.
Approximately six buildings were affected, with water levels between four inches and two feet. Surrounding parking lots had rapidly moving water as high as six feet. Earlier into the incident, engine company personnel removed at least sixteen people from apartments with minimal damage, and assisted at least five others who self-rescued from affected apartments.
Engine 5 was also on scene on Dana Drive, but left to respond to a nearby working structure fire. Battalion 3 arrived later in the incident. EMS resources included a paramedic ambulance, a District Chief, and the Chief of Operations.
Also during the storm, there were numerous power outages and road closures. Engine 24 also received significant damage from high water on Wade Avenue at the Beltline ramp. Station 16 was also severely flooded, after a storm drain was clogged with debris. Four inches of water covered all floors of the firehouse. Ladder 1 and Services staff assisted with early-morning water removal, and the installation of fans and dehumidifiers.
Mike Legeros photographs.