Snow falls on Canyon Creek fire

Snow falls on Canyon Creek fire

04 September 2015

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USA — OR- After the Canyon Creek Complex fire grew to more than 110,000 acres on Thursday, the weather Friday was perfect for dampening its energy. The temperature never reached 50 degrees in an overcast and rainy John Day, and photos of snow falling near the fire lines were shared widely on social media.

But the cool weather and the rain is not all good news. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch for much of the John Day basin, effective from 3 p.m. Friday through Saturday evening.

The Grant County Court earlier in the week asked an engineering firm to investigate what efforts can be undertaken to ensure the damage caused by fire doesn’t result in catastrophic flooding for cities and residences located beneath the mountains.

A significant amount of the Canyon Creek drainage has been damaged by fire. Grant County Court Commissioner Boyd Britton said the danger is real and the issue needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“I’m just scared to death of what could happen,” Britton said. “I am really, really concerned. We don’t have any vegetation now in much of that watershed.”

The forecast called for steady drizzle for Friday night into Saturday and emergency responders weren’t taking chances. However, the real focus is on spring runoff and snow melt next year.

Doug Ferguson of Ferguson Surveying and Engineering will act as a liaison between the multiple local, state and federal agencies that will each conduct rehabilitation efforts in areas of the Canyon Creek drainage harmed by the fire.

“Those who understand the potential of flooding are certainly concerned,” he said. “The county wants to stay close to this issue.”

Much of the damaged areas are steep slopes now filled with half-burned debris, downed trees and ashy ground. Add in the lack of vegetation keeping that debris anchored to the hillside, and the potential for catastrophic flooding increases.

In the worst-case scenario, Ferguson said, “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. We just don’t have anything left to hold back a flood.”

The county has asked Ferguson to work with the various agencies to coordinate the restoration and flood-mitigation work that will take place.

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.

Malheur National Forest Supervisor Steve Beverlin said Wednesday that restoration efforts to help control flooding, including soil stabilization and erosion control projects, will be conducted as quickly as possible.

“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.”

Britton said the county is hoping to cut through the red tape that will be involved with such large restoration efforts and get the work done quickly.

“We have to get out ahead of this,” he said. “Let’s be proactive to keep this thing from being worse than it already is.”

Grant County Court Judge Scott Myers 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.

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