Fire-singed Methow Valley slammed by flash flooding
The Methow Valley just can’t get a break. First it was fire, now it’s flooding.
Seattle Times staff reporter
CARLTON, Okanogan County — Not again.
First the devastating wildfires that scorched a quarter-million acres in what’s called the Carlton complex fire — an area five times the size of Seattle — and now mudslides.
The scenic Methow Valley just keeps getting hit. In one hour, portions of the area got more than an inch of rain beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.
Ten homes were damaged or destroyed, though there were no casualties or injuries, said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.
It appeared the worst damage was in one location a mile north of Carlton. A house was completely obliterated along Highway 153 — the previous resident luckily had moved out three weeks ago, leaving the house vacant — while another home just across the highway got hit by a 10-foot wall of water, mud and rocks.
At around 7 p.m. Thursday, the water poured over a 10-foot concrete barrier Janie Lewis and her husband, Bob “Elk” Belgard, had put up to keep out highway noise and then “blew the front door open,” said Lewis.
Belgard said he went under and then came up. He remembered that the gusher “kept hitting me with rocks.”
The water then settled to about a 3- to 4-foot depth, “with no place to go,” said Belgard. The couple managed to break open their back door and some windows so the water could flow out.
Valley highway hit
The state Department of Transportation said Highway 153, which connects Carlton, Winthrop and Twisp with the Wenatchee area, remained partially closed by mudslides and rocks, but a detour was available. There was no estimated time for reopening.
Rogers said Highway 20, between Twisp and Okanogan, had been closed, then opened, then closed again early Friday evening because rain had washed out another portion of that road.
The weather service said more rain was expected in spots Friday night, and that “the potential exists for the burn scar areas to receive rain amounts that could cause more mud slides, debris flows, or dangerous flash flooding.”
The stormy weather affected fire-suppression operations on the Little Bridge Creek and Carlton complex fires, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. Thursday evening storms caused flash flooding at the incident command post and fire camp located on Twisp-Carlton Road. Officials were setting up a new workspace because several of the command post’s yurts had flooded.
The nearly 5,000-acre Little Bridge Creek fire, about 10 miles northwest of Winthrop, was 83 percent contained Friday evening. The Carlton complex fire, which destroyed 322 residences, was at 256,108 acres, or 400 square miles, and 90 percent contained.
Fire personnel were drying out their tents and preparing for additional rain, the coordination center said Friday.
Rogers said that he hoped the storm clouds would head north. Early Friday evening in Carlton, there were spots of blue sky, so perhaps the Methow Valley would luck out.
It certainly needs it.
This summer’s natural catastrophes, said Erin Rosco, of Carlton, made the area the “Valley of Bad Luck.”
Neighbors pitch in
Friday morning, the locals rallied around Lewis and Belgard, who said some 40 people showed up early to shovel mud and remove muddied belongings from their house.
The couple’s cat, Marco, had managed to save himself by running to their barn, but still looked scared and startled as he was placed in a pickup.
Lewis said she believed their home was saved by a century-old, 60- to 70-foot oak tree in their front yard. It held its ground against the major debris.
Remnants of the washed-away home across the highway were stacked against their a work shed. A 30-foot yurt on their property also was destroyed by the mudslide. Luckily, the people living there also had moved out recently, said Belgard.
The couple said most of their belongings on the first floor, and in the basement, were unusable.
They said they spent three hours the evening after the mudslide trying to move and salvage their possessions. Since they take off their shoes when indoors, they were barefoot — but even if they wanted their shoes they couldn’t find them.
On Friday, state transportation workers cleared the road, but Belgard worried what next would happen to his property.
A 2-foot shallow creek now crosses the highway and was deepening a crevice on the property. A creek on the hillside above used to be diverted by a culvert under the road, but no more.
Belgard remembered the deep rumbling noise of the mudslide, and “the wall of black water.”
Lewis remembered being inside the home “and a huge log flew over.”
But they also talked about all those neighbors who showed up to help. “It’s so incredible,” said Lewis.