Local News

Mudslides close roads, trap drivers in central Washington

TWISP, Wash. - Mud, slides and flash floods triggered by heavy rain falling on wildfire-scarred areas of north-central Washington damaged some homes, blocked portions of at least three highways and stranded motorists, officials say.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said he heard "a couple" of homes along State Highway 153 near Twisp were damaged. Deputies were trying to reach the residences. There were no reports of injuries Thursday night. Power was reported out in much of the area.

By late Thursday night, the thunderstorms and rain had eased, the sheriff said. But rains were expected to return Friday evening, and could lead to more flash flooding. The National Weather Service says heavy rain amounts will be spotty but storms could drop a half-inch of rain in a short time.

Five to 12 vehicles were marooned on Highway 153 by mud and slides, Washington State Patrol Trooper Darren Wright said. Troopers and sheriff's deputies worked late Thursday night to get the people out.

Tarrie Darwood and her husband were at work and separated from their 12-, 10- and 5-year-old kids at home when they heard about the slide.

"When they said (Highway) 153, my first thought was, 'where?' and when they said where, I just thought, 'O...K... I'm glad my 12-year-old can handle it,' " she said.

She said they were able to walk across one of the slides and made it home just after midnight.

"I was OK with (the kids) because they've been left alone this summer and they've handled it, but it was raining and they had no power and they were a little scared but everybody did really well, I was pretty impressed," she said.

But now, she says it might be a while before her home is easily reachable again.

"It could be a couple of days before we're able to get anywhere -- we're stuck at home with no power, no water, unless we've got our generators that we had working during the fire," Darwood said. "We have the river behind us and slides on either side of the highway so we're pretty much stuck and can't get out."

While the Carlton Complex of wildfires that burned across more than 400 square miles this summer are in mop-up stage, about 500 people are still assigned to fight them and other nearby blazes. Flash flooding and strong winds hit the Carlton fire camp and incident command post Thursday night, the National Park Service reported. All workers were accounted for and reportedly had dry places to sleep.

More than an inch of rain was reported in one hour near Twisp, in an area burned by the Carlton fires, National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Fugazzi said.

"In those burned-out areas, every time we get a heavy rain" the flash flood risk exists, Rogers said. With the vegetation burned off the ground, "there's nothing to hold it, the water just sloughs off."

Mud and debris prompted the temporary closure of an 8-mile stretch of Highway 153 and a 25-mile section of State Highway 20, both in Okanogan County, the state Transportation Department said.

Wright said a small mudslide in nearby Douglas County blocked U.S. Highway 97 south of Chelan.

Meanwhile, Darwood says it's just the latest event of a very hectic summer.

"One event after the other. First we had the fires start and they took off like nobody's business, and then we got rain that already caused a couple of slides," she said. " Then we had no power, then we've got the rain and mudslides with no power, so it's just been an interesting summer."