SALEM, Ore. – Autumn rains may have ended Oregon’s wildfire season but not the risk of floods and debris flows following in their wake. That is why a working group of state and federal agencies have released a new playbook. The playbook will aid local officials in finding resources to help prevent or cope with potentially catastrophic wildfire after-effects.
Wildfires burned more than 856,000 acres this year across all of Oregon, well above the 10-year average of approximately 500,000 acres, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Chief of Fire Protection Doug Grafe.
“High intensity wildfires can destroy protective vegetation and alter soil so it is less able to absorb rainfall and snowmelt,” said Grafe. “After such fires, there can be an increased risk of flooding or debris flows.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, landslides (also known as debris flows) cause about $3.5 billion (in 2001 dollars) in damage in the U.S. each year, and claim between 25 to 50 lives. A prime example is the debris flow that hit Montecito in Southern California in January of this year. Just weeks after the Thomas Fire burned the hills above the town of about 9,000, a debris flow swept through, killing more than 20 people.
Ryan Cahill, hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said his agency worked with several partners to compile and complete the guide, including:
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Oregon Department of Forestry
Oregon Emergency Management
Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Geological Survey
“Federal and state partners already work together to suppress wildfires, so it was natural for us to come together to prepare a guide for community leaders on what to do after wildfires,” said Cahill. “The playbook we produced explains what to do to reduce the risk from floods and debris flows, identifies the resources available to help do that, and where to find those resources,” said Cahill.
Among steps Cahill said at-risk communities can take, one is designating in advance where evacuation centers will be, including animal-friendly locations where pets and livestock can receive care. Alert systems, such as reverse 9-1-1 calls, should also be organized and periodically tested.
All government entities and critical emergency organizations, such as hospitals, utilities, food banks and schools, should know their roles in a community flood or debris flow emergency. Then be equipped and prepared to carry out those plans.
Although the playbook is intended for elected local officials and emergency managers, individuals can help protect themselves as well.
“Property owners and those living and working near rivers where catastrophic fires have occurred should be aware of their level of risk and take appropriate preparedness actions,” said Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps. “This includes having ‘two-weeks ready’ preparedness supplies handy, signing up for emergency notification systems where you live, and reviewing insurance coverage to make sure your home is protected for hazards like flooding and landslides.”
The playbook can be accessed at: https://silverjackets.nfrmp.us/Portals/0/doc/Oregon/PostFireFloodPlaybook_2018-09-30.pdf?ver=2018-10-04-203119-453
Press release provided from the Oregon Department of Forestry.