The past summer of wildfires in Washington State forests raised the risks of flooding and landslides this winter. Wildfires dramatically changed watersheds in the burned areas, putting more people and property at risk.
Wildland fires are inevitable in the western United States. More people are moving into forested areas where wildfires occur. Scorching wildfires can destroy all of the plants on mountains or hillsides. Without the plant roots there to hold everything in place on a hillside, rain and snow melt will flow more rapidly, loosening soil and rocks, and, possibly, causing a landslide and flooding.
Here’s what’s being done
The U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service,and Bureau of Land Management work with counties and local agencies to help landowners in burned areas prepare for potential run-off from rain or melting snow.
In Washington, a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team assesses the areas burned in recent wildfires, and develops treatments, such as replanting, to reduce the potential threats to life and property from mudslides and flooding.
Because the BAER treatments cannot prevent all of the potential impacts, especially after wildfires change the landscape, communities must also take action.
Here are steps you can take (even if you don’t live in a wildfire zone) to protect yourself, your family and your property from flooding and mudflows:
- Monitor local weather reports and public safety bulletins, local road closures, emergency notifications, weather alerts and other advisories.
- Use a “weather radio” or smart phone “weather app” that monitors “all hazards” alerts issued by the NOAA-National Weather Service.
- Be prepared to evacuate if emergency county or city officials determine that dangerous flooding and mudflows are expected.
- Recognize and be alert to environmental signs of dangerous weather conditions and be prepared to take action – it could save your life.
- Understand that all canyons along the Cascade Mountain Range and those in areas that burned in the past few years can produce flooding.
- If you find yourself in a flood, climb to safety (seek higher ground).