Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mudslides swamp Warm Springs Road

Slides lead county officials to close well-traveled route west of Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

A wet and soupy mixture of mud and woody debris carried in by slides that ripped off surrounding mountainsides Monday afternoon covers a section of Warm Springs Road west of Ketchum. Warm Springs road was opened Tuesday for local traffic only.

Heavy and sustained rainfall caused a torrent of mud and debris to inundate several sections of Warm Springs Road west of Ketchum in the early afternoon Monday.

The heavy flows caused Blaine County officials to close the rural road, which provides access to a number of outlying homes. By noon on Tuesday, county road crews were able to reopen the road to local traffic.

"It was like a big, thick milkshake coming down the hill and across the road," said Board Ranch resident Lisa Vierling.

Clearing the road presented a challenge for the road crews due to the soupy consistency of the mud.

"There is simply nowhere to push it since all the low spots are already filled," Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman wrote on the county Web site Tuesday morning.

Crews closed the road past lower Board Ranch just past the end of the pavement. Midday Tuesday, officials were keeping a lookout for additional mudslides because of a continuing flash flood watch issued by the National Weather Service.

The advisory was in effect for Blaine County through yesterday evening.

At least two mudslides swept across Warm Springs Road several hours after the heavy rainfall began, though reports from Sawtooth National Forest officials suggested that number may have been higher. One of the slides that swept over the road near the end of the pavement completely blocked passage with mud and debris.

Officials closed the road late Monday afternoon, restricting travel to and from the outlying area, including parts of Board Ranch. People living farther out the canyon would be "better off to make other arrangements," said Chuck Turner, Blaine County disaster services coordinator.

The affected area was made susceptible to mudslides by the Castle Rock Fire, which burned more than 48,000 acres near Ketchum in 2007. In the months after the fire, heavy rainfall caused a series of similar mudslides to block the road and dam up portions of Warm Springs Creek with tons of silt.

Lower Board Ranch resident Byron Karrys watched as a mudslide flowed off a nearby hillside and onto his property just after noon Monday. He said the flow "sounded like Shoshone Falls" and looked "like a lava flow."

Karrys, who also stayed in his home as the Castle Rock Fire burned within a short distance of his house two summers ago, said the slide pushed mud into a crawlspace of his house.

"I got slammed again. The mountain just let go on me," he said.

Jason Kauffman:

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