Gorge residents face landslide risk after wildfires

Eagle Creek fire zone facing landslide risk

CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. -- They survived the Eagle Creek Fire, but people in Cascade Locks know they could be in for more problems.

“We've got a pretty good idea there's going to be rock flows and mud flows down in this place,” said Cascade Locks Mayor, Tom Cramblett.

Cramblett and dozens of neighbors came to a meeting Tuesday night to learn how to mitigate landslide risks and other dangers as part of what the US Forest Service’s Burned Area Emergency Response program, or BAER.

For weeks, a team of experts studied the soil, plants, water and engineering in the Eagle Creek fire zone. They used that information to create maps, showing which areas are most at risk for landslides and flooding.

“The maps are now publicly available and that's the main thing we're trying to do communicate to communities, now,” said Brad Siemens, the US Forest Service’s Recovery Program Coordinator for the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

“They can determine themselves what their risks are and what they can do to mitigate those risks.”

According to the study, 45% of the land burned within the Eagle Creek Fire perimeter was found to have high or moderate soil burn severity. That means it may have developed water-repellent soil, allowing water to flow more freely over the ground, causing erosion and downstream flooding.

Cramblett said he hoped neighbors took what they learned to heart.

“It's one thing to have the information, it's another thing, what you do with that information,” said Cramblett.

Those at the meeting knew they couldn’t predict the future, but many could remember the past.

“In Dodson, in ’96, they had the big debris flow,” recalled resident Butch Miller. “That can happen again because you have very steep hills.”

Hillsides where trees and thick vegetation once shielded lose debris and runoff which now in many areas are slick and bare. Perhaps nothing bad will happen, but neighbors like Jeanine Szidon knows this is one risk scenario where ignorance is not bliss.

“We are going to get rain now, a lot of rain,” said Szidon. “So I guess this will be our first test.”

© 2017 KGW-TV


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