Unstable ground: How earth fissures wreak havoc on Pinal County

Areas of Pinal County are riddled with earth fissures that can open up at any moment. Some residents live in constant fear of the fissures in their own backyards, and county officials say they’re powerless to do anything about it.

The Arizona Geological Survey‘s Michael Conway explained that earth fissures are the result of ground water pumping. “We’ve been growing crops in the Sonoran desert now for over a hundred years,” he said, “and for most of that time, it required extensive ground water pumping out of the aquifer below us, below our feet.” Conway said that as water is removed from underground, air replaces the gap; sediments in basin slowly come closer together until the floor subsides, causing a fissure to open up.

WHAT IT’S LIKE: Take a 360-degree tour of a Pinal County fissure

Kindra Wait has lived near a fissure at 195th Street and East Happy Road in Queen Creek since 1999. She called the fissure scary and devastating. “We never want to leave and go anywhere during the summertime when it’s monsoon season or when there’s any kind of rainstorm coming because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Another Queen Creek resident, Katy Simpson, says that when the fissure that runs along her house opens up, she and her neighbors have to fill it in with dirt and other objects — because if someone gets injured due to the fissure, Simpson is liable.

Simpson said she has contacted the county officials and asked for help. Pinal County public information officer Joe Pyritz said the county cannot address fissures on private property. He added that the county cannot fund fixes for fissure problems that affect one family, but that it could interfere if a fix would help “many people.”

WATCH: Residents and authorities on Pinal County’s fissures

“But every single time it rains, we hold our breath and wonder,” said Wait.

Connoway urges people who live in agricultural areas to report new or developing earth fissures to the Arizona Geological Survey.