TROUTDALE, Ore. -- A flash flood watch issued by the National Weather Service late Sunday afternoon was extended through Tuesday morning for the Eagle Creek and Whitewater fire burn areas.
The forecast calls for one to two inches of rain for burn areas through Tuesday morning. The heaviest rains are expected Monday afternoon and evening.
The lack of vegetation and the burn scarring will likely result in enhanced runoff, debris flows, mudslides, and landslides around the drainages and steep terrain of burn areas, the National Weather Service said.
In the Eagle Creek Fire burn area, communities between Latourell and Hood River, and potentially Interstate 84 itself, could be affected. For the Whitewater Fire burn area, locations close to Breitenbush and State Highway 20 could be affected.
A flash flood watch remains posted for the Cascades and Gorge through tomorrow morning. Areas where there have been wildfires could experience increased runoff, debris flows and landslides.Posted by Keely Chalmers (KGW-TV) on Monday, September 18, 2017
“The rain that we're getting really complicates what we are doing right now,” said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. “Its been difficult enough to try to clear these hillsides and to make sure they are safe. The possibility of slides is going to make it that much more complicated. This could be a significant problem in the weeks ahead.”
Authorities have rescinded evacuation notices in Multnomah County and most of the Hood River Valley on Monday. The Breitenbush Hot Springs and Breitenbush Summer Homes will remain at a level 3 (Go!) evacuation level because of the risk of thunder and lightning.
Eastbound lanes of I-84 from Troutdale to Hood River have been closed since Sept. 4. Monday marks two weeks of the closure, which might be one of the longest spans in history that lanes of I-84 have remained closed, according to ODOT.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work on Eastbound I-84, making a lot of progress out there,” said Hamilton. “But we still have no timeline for re-opening it. We will re-open it when we know it’s safe when we have a high degree of confidence that it can be safe. With the new rain, with the slide threat, it complicates the issue even more.”
Westbound I-84 also closed Sept. 4 but reopened Thursday, Sept. 14, with a brief closure on the morning of Sept. 16 to clear trees.
The National Weather Service suggests extreme caution for anyone traveling through the affected areas. The highest risk are locations below steep slopes in canyons or near the mouths of canyons.
The rain that arrived Sunday could present new landslide challenges to an already landslide-prone area.
"Heavy rain can trigger landslides and debris flows in steep terrain, and the risk is higher in burn areas," said Bill Burns, engineering geologist at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.
"It doesn't mean it's going to happen, but the likelihood does increase," said a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey on Saturday.
Crews are pleased to see rain in the forecast and think it will likely help them contain the fire, but are aware of the potential challenges showers could bring. Nearby residents are also glad the rain moved in.
“The rain is taking the smoke out. So that’s cool," said neighbor Leon Alec. "That feels way better because you can breathe.”
ODOT said while the rain has helped, the area has just begun a long road to recovery.
“Everybody's been through a really cataclysmic event, and I think the people who live there realize that and it's going to take a long time before we can really recover," said Hamilton.
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