Friday, September 7, 2007

Mudslides pour off burned slopes

Scorched hillsides more prone to flooding, landslides

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle surveys the first of several mudslides that poured off scorched slopes in Warm Springs canyon Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

First it was flames. Now it's floodwaters and mudslides threatening residents living in the Warm Springs Creek drainage west of Ketchum.

Sometime before noon Wednesday, Sept. 5, heavy rains caused a series of small to large mudslides to race down recently burned hillsides near Frenchman's Bend about seven miles southwest of Ketchum.

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle was among the first to respond to the scene. Elle said he witnessed numerous mudslides all the way along Warm Springs Road near the upper and lower Board Ranch areas, as well as in the Frenchman's Bend area.

The slides briefly trapped a fire crew with three vehicles behind the mudflows, fire officials reported.

"They were back behind the mudslide," Elle said. "There were no damages or injuries."

As of 5 p.m., road crews from Blaine County Road and Bridge Department and the U.S. Forest Service were able to clear a passage through the slides using large loaders to allow firefighters through, Elle said.

Darrell Carraway, a mechanic with Blaine County Road and Bridge, said the department had two people working a front-end loader and a road grader Thursday to finish the job.

Elle said there wasn't any apparent damage to homes in the area.

"There didn't appear to be anything other than mud running around one of the houses," Elle said.

The first major slide was in the Frenchman's Bend area. Elle said the slide, composed of woody debris, rock and mud, blocked the entire width of Warm Springs Road when he arrived.

The slide originated on the south side of the road and blocked him from driving up the road any farther. From there, Elle headed farther in on foot, but he didn't make it past Red Warrior Creek.

Prior to the slides, local emergency officials were aware of a flood warning issued by the National Weather Service for Wednesday.

"We had made everybody aware there was a possibility of it," Elle said.

Starting today, Friday, Sept. 7, a Forest Service crew called a Burned Area Emergency Response team, or BAER for short, will begin evaluating recovery-related issues in the aftermath of the 48,520-acre Castle Rock Fire, which fire managers declared 100 percent contained on Tuesday.

Among their duties, the team will consider the potential for further flooding and mudslides inside the burn area, Fire Information Officer Dick Birger said Thursday.

Birger said that among the things they will look at are the combination of topography and soil types and how those factors may contribute to further flooding in the event of more rain.

"So much depends on the individual topography," he said.

Birger also said some soil types are more prone to slide than others.

Birger said BAER teams look at the whole perspective of post-fire recovery, including issues related to hydrology, wildlife and fisheries.

Among its recommendations, the team will advise local officials on what needs to be done and what can be done immediately, Birger said.

The team is charged with producing a set of recommendations within seven days.

"It will be a pretty comprehensive look," he said.

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