Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ecology mobilizes response in aftermath of fires, flash flooding

Scorched earth, torrential rains result in widespread devastation across Okanogan County
By Joye Redfield-Wilder, communications manager, Central Regional Office

This month, crews with the Ecology's Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) celebrated the 20th anniversary of their association with AmeriCorps' by getting wet and dirty on the Methow River as part of Ecology's large response to devastating wildfires and flash flooding in the Methow Valley.

WCC crew members boarded rafts and pulled lumber, roofing, drums and even a yurt hung up on the rocks and loaded them into trailers to be hauled to the landfill. This week they removed burnt fencing and dug post holes and strung fence lines across a sometimes barren landscape in the Beaver Creek area. Lost in the fires and floods was some 900 miles of fencing needed to contain livestock and to exclude wildlife from orchards.

WCC crews launch rafts 
Lightning strikes, rain events
Beginning July 14, four lightning-caused fires merged, scorching 400 square miles (246,000 acres) in the Methow and burning approximately 300 homes in and around the towns of Pateros and Malott, as well as in more rural areas. Unlike most wildfires, 38 percent of the land burned was private land.

An unprecedented rainstorm on Aug. 21 caused the failure of three of five earthen dams in Finley Canyon and flooding in areas denuded of vegetation by fire, washing away roads and carrying debris down the Methow River.

 The Okanogan Conservation District is working with Ecology and other local, state, and federal agencies in the response and seeking funding to assist landowners who need post-fire help to restore forest and pastures and to reduce the risk of flash flood damage.

Loading debris on trailer for disposal
Ecology's full scale response
Engineers from Ecology’s Dam Safety Program arrived on-site to monitor the dams and are working with dam owners to permanently fix the remaining dams and assist with permitting requirements if dams are to be repaired and rebuilt.

Ecology Environmental Assessment staff deployed rain gages in burn areas to help the U.S. Weather Service provide early warnings of flash flooding due to rain events. Gages will provide live streaming data at 17 sites via satellite to the Weather Service.
Bill Ward and Brad Hopkins check rain gage
Our Shorelands program is providing technical assistance to Okanogan County and the Methow Restoration Council related to shoreline and habitat restoration. And our Waste 2 Resources program is working with WCC to provide general guidance on disposing solid waste and the special handling of hazardous wastes found in the aftermath of the fires and flooding.

During the fires, smoke managers kept tabs on smoke levels and provided smoke forecasting. Large power generators were allowed to operate during the emergency when required permits were waived; small generators don’t require permits.
WCC celebrating  31 years in Washington with Methow response, too!
Ecology’s WCC has been part of AmeriCorps since the national young adult service agency's inception in 1994. But has been active in Washington since 1983! As a result of this great partnership, nearly 10 million native trees and shrubs have been planted, 28,000 acres have been improved or restored for fish and wildlife, over 184,000 disaster response hours have been provided to communities throughout the country, and 4,800 miles of trails and boardwalks have been created or improved (nearly 1.5 times the distance between the East and West coasts).

The environmental youth training and development program’s mission is to provide young men and women of Washington state with a meaningful work experience and training opportunity while completing important environmental enhancement projects for local, state, and federal resource organizations.

The WCC is also part of a state emergency response network that includes flood, wildfire, and spill response, and our crews play an important role in these activities.

In addition to deploying on the recent wildfires in Eastern Washington and now assisting in mitigating the damage caused by subsequent flooding and mudslides, crew members have responded to disasters across the nation after Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy and the tornados in Joplin, Mo.
Closer to home, they worked tirelessly in the aftermath of the Oso/530 slide in Snohomish County. And they’ll be ready when the next response call comes in.

Flooding and dam failure resulted in extensive damage

More photos on Flickr:

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