Oregon is entering its rainy season while recovering from the recent devastation caused by wildfires. The Oregon Office of Emergency Management is warning people living and traveling in and around areas impacted by wildfires about the risk of flooding, landslides and debris flows and urging Oregonians to sign up for emergency alerts, exercise caution and plan ahead.
Wildfires dramatically change the landscape and ground conditions, which can lead to a higher risk of flooding. Natural, unburned vegetation and soil normally act as a sponge during a rainfall event. But after an intense wildfire, burned vegetation and charred soil form a water repellent layer, blocking water absorption. As a result, properties located below or downstream of the burn areas are at an increased risk for flooding and debris flows. Even areas not traditionally flood-prone are at risk of flooding for up to several years after a wildfire.
“The impacts of wildfires are often felt for years after the flames are out. For those in or near these areas, threats like flash floods and debris flows can happen quickly and with little to no warning,” said Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps. “Leave if you are told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Have an evacuation route planned that is least likely to be impacted by flash flooding and debris flow and stay informed: Sign up for OR-Alert to receive emergency alerts and pay attention to weather forecasts in your area.”
OEM also recommends developing an emergency plan – for floods and other hazards – that includes building and maintaining emergency kits for home, work and vehicles. When a disaster occurs, it’s unrealistic to expect first responders will be able to reach everyone within hours or even days. Oregonians should plan on being self-sufficient for at least two weeks following any type of disaster. OEM’s 2 Weeks Ready program offers several resources.
The U.S. Geological Survey provides maps showing the likelihood of debris flow in different areas around specific wildfires. The recent atmospheric rivers affecting the Pacific Northwest have proven the rainy season is already underway, and recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a high possibility of more La Niña-related events continuing throughout this fall and winter.
Floods are the most common and expensive natural disaster in the U.S. Just an inch of water in an average-sized home can cause more than $25,000 in damage. Most homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover flood damage. Flood insurance is a separate policy that protects homes and belongings from floodwater damage so residents can recover after a storm. Policies typically take 30 days to go into effect, so it is important for residents to plan in advance.
For more information about flood risk and mitigation, visit Ready.gov/floods.