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The recent wildfires on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest changed the watersheds within the burned areas and increased the potential for flooding and mudflows that could impact several communities, homes, and other infrastructures adjacent to and downstream from National Forest system lands.
Although flooding can be a frequent occurrence after a wildfire, the extent of the effects of the recent wildfires on burned areas will need to be determined.
Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Supervisor Michael Balboni assembled a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team to assess the condition of the areas that burned in our recent wildfires.
One of the more important BAER commitments is interagency coordination with local cooperators who assist off-forest affected businesses, homes, and landowners prepare for rain events. The Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) work together and coordinate with local agencies and counties that assist landowners in preparing for potential runoff.
Federal assistance to private landowners is the primary responsibility of the NRCS through the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program (http://www.wa.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ewp.html). NRCS crews are currently conducting assessments of homes in the path of potential debris flows in Okanogan County. NRCS will utilize this information to develop emergency measures in the event a rain event triggers such flows. Okanogan County Resource Conservation Distict (RCD) is the sponsor for acquiring EWP funding for Okanogan County and will be working with the NRCS to assist private landowners with the survey reports and recommended emergency measures. The Okanogan RCD is also a clearinghouse for landowners whose natural and agricultural resources have been affected by recent fires.
Multiple agencies are working or are in contact with the BAER team and looking at the full scope and scale of the situation to reduce potential threats to life and property. BAER treatments cannot prevent all of the potential flooding or soil erosion impacts, especially after wildfires change the landscape.
It is important that residents take steps to protect themselves and their property from flooding and mudflows:
§ For their safety, communities need to monitor local weather reports and public safety
bulletins, local road closures, emergency notifications, weather alerts, follow local county and city advisories, and act accordingly.
§ Use a “weather radio” or smart phone “weather app” that monitors “all hazards” alerts
issued by the NOAA-National Weather Service: (http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/allhazard.htm)
§ Prepare for rainstorms by being prepared to evacuate if emergency county or city officials determine that flooding and mudflows are expected which could pose an increased threat to life and property.
§ Know and be alert to environmental signs of dangerous weather conditions and be prepared to take action that can save lives.
§ Understand that all canyons along the Cascade Range and those associated within the burned areas can produce flooding.
§ If you find yourself in a flood, climb to safety (seek higher ground).
Additional Resources for Preparing for Flood-Mudflows and Interagency Cooperator Information:
The Central Washington BAER is supporting an information website called Central Washington Fire Recovery (http://centralwashingtonfirerecovery.info/floodwatch) that has tips on flood preparation, hazard maps, resources, links and more.
The Washington Department of Ecology’s floodplain management program provides grants and technical assistance to communities to reduce losses to life and property, and to address statewide flood hazard challenges in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local governments. Fora listing of floodplain programs contacts: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/floods/contacts.html.
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, signed into law on July 6, 2012 by President Obama, increases access to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for some residents whose homes could be impacted by flooding from federal land that resulted from wildfires. This law may allow residents in impacted communities to become eligible for an exception from the 30-day waiting period usually required for flood insurance coverage. Additional information about NFIP is available through FEMA, http://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program or Flood Smart at http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/?cid=Search_Google_Adwords_FEMA_Brand.
The State of Washington - Department of Health provides information about how the public can prepare and what to do afterwards for floods, landslides, and mudflows: http://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/EmergencyPreparednessandResponse/Factsheets/Floods.
The Emergency Management Division of the Washington State Military Department provides information about floods and landslides:
The USDI Geological Survey (USGS) provides “water watch” internet tools and flood information for the State of Washington:
The Okanogan County Resource Conservation District (509-422-0855, ext. 5) is coordinating a “resource fair” at the Methow Valley Community Center in Twisp on Wednesday, August 13th from 6-8 pm. There will be various agencies/organizations that will give private landowners and business owners more information regarding what actions they can take to protect themselves and their property.