PENDLETON (AP) — With rain and even a little snow falling on a destructive wildfire near John Day, local officials were able to breathe a sigh of relief that flames are largely controlled, but another concern is emerging: the potential for catastrophic flooding.
Grant County has asked an engineering firm to investigate what can be done to ensure fire damage doesn’t cause flooding for cities and homes located beneath the charred mountains.
A significant amount of the Canyon Creek drainage has been damaged by fire, much of its steep slopes are now filled with half-burned debris, downed trees and ashy ground. Without vegetation to keep debris anchored to the hillside, the potential for catastrophic flooding and erosion increases, the East Oregonian reported (http://bit.ly/1Uz9mwf).
“I’m just scared to death of what could happen,” Grant County Commissioner Boyd Britton said. “We don’t have any vegetation now in much of that watershed.”
The fire has destroyed 43 homes and burned more than 170 square miles south of John Day and Canyon City. Firefighters reported over the weekend that parts of the fire continued to burn but spreading was minimal. Crews are dropping water and strengthening containment lines.
Doug Ferguson of Ferguson Surveying and Engineering will act as a liaison between the multiple local, state and federal agencies that will conduct rehabilitation efforts in areas of the Canyon Creek drainage harmed by the fire.
“The silt and ash and debris that could come down that creek could be devastating. Everybody is still pretty focused on fighting the fire. But I am worried about the possibility of imminent flooding problems,” Ferguson said. “We just don’t have anything left to hold back a flood.”
Ferguson met with officials from the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and other agencies Sept. 2 to begin hashing out a plan.
Restoration efforts to help control flooding, including soil stabilization and erosion control projects will be conducted as quickly as possible, Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin said Wednesday
“We’re moving as fast as we can,” he said. “My directions to my team are: Let’s have those investments down before the snow flies.”
Grant County Court Judge Scott Myers, the county’s top elected official, said the flooding concern is legitimate.
“If we were to have a gully washer or sudden downpour, with all the vegetation upstream of Canyon City virtually gone, we could get an influx of mud and debris . rushing into Canyon City,” he said.