After the brutal lightening storm on Sept. 8 over 7,500 acres burned over the course of a month. Even though the issues of smoke and evacuations have come to an end, the Wenatchee Complex Fire has raised concerns for potential runoff events.
For the next three years people with homes near the forest fires of September 2012 will need to prepare for possible severe runoffs that could flood property.
Ray Faini, Director of the Chelan County WSU Extension, said as long as we continue to have gentle rain like we have had in the month of October we should be fine. However, the worry for runoffs is dependent on the weather. It's possible freezing weather will cause the grounds to freeze over and then the a large amount of rain could come through causing the ground to flood.
Faini said locals should be worried even if significant runoffs don't happen over this fall and winter. It's possible large runoffs could happen any time over the next three years until the severely burned ground starts to rehabilitate.
"The first rain that we get where there is a sufficient amount in a short enough period of time that will all come running down. When it does that could cause a number of problems, " Faini said. "It can cause culverts and drains to plug up and when that happens that water will find the next easiest route for it to take. It could over flow the roads and move down roads.
Because there is a lot of ash from the forest fires, the rain will mix with the ash and debris increasing the density of the water and causing more things to float.
Faini said this is not a six to eight month watch. People need to be careful up to the next three years. It will take some time for the severely burned areas to recover. He also said the concern is an all year thing. If the snow is melting in the spring and there is rain on top of that, which there often is, it complicates conditions more. This would create too much water for the ground to absorb causing a significant runoff.
"One thing that is interesting, in the serve burn area the ground is hydrophobic which means it doesn't absorb water. It has a coating on it and water rolls right off like wax on a car. You can imagine what that does when it starts to rain," Faini said. "It's scary."
The people who live up Mission Creek and the Canyons in Wenatchee will be affected first and the hardest, according to Faini. He said the people who live up the furthest of Mission Creek will know before a weatherman or the Sheriff's office when the runoffs will begin. If it is raining over an inch per half hour than a runoff is happening.
"This could happen at any time but some of the greatest fears are for summer when we get dumped on from the big thunder storms," Faini said.
Both the city and county are working on getting the culverts and drains ready for heavy rain. Faini said usually the county goes out once a year to check the right of wats and to make sure the culverts are clear so water can get through. However, this year the county is going out a second time to make sure it is clear to prepare for runoffs.
"Our road crews are going out and making sure all of our ditches and culverts are clear. Basically it is going to be running off pretty significantly and what we are doing is making sure all of our systems are cleared and opened and ready so we don't have any plug ups anywhere," said Lauren Loebsack, public information officer for Chelan County Public Works.
Loebsack said the county is continuing to work with local, state, and federal agencies to have a coordinated restoration effort.
Faini and Loebsack both said there are multiple things a homeowner can do to prepare for a runoff.
The first thing to do is secure any loose items around your property, such as yard furniture, pool covers, tarps, agriculture tools, and equipment.
"People need to look in their yards and assess what's out there that water can float away. If it floats it away it might float it into a culvert and block it up. It could be things like barbeques, pool covers, picnic tables and other things out there that can float. If the rain happens to come with a lot of ash it can float things you normally wouldn't think of," Faini said. "You need to get those things out of the way,"
It is also important to maintain the integrity of the drains by not placing fill in it and not allowing livestock to enter the ditch. Keep ditches clean of structures, weeds, and any other garbage or debris so the water can easily flow through it.
To find other information visit the after the fires website at co.chelan.wa.us/pw/after_the_fires.html for brochures and other information about potential runoff events.
Kacie Thrift may be reached at 782-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.