Flash Flood Watch for Pioneer Fire burn scar, emergency prep under way

Flash Flood Watch for Pioneer Fire burn scar.

BOISE COUNTY -- Areas around the Pioneer Fire burn scar are on high alert in the wake of a Flash Flood Watch issued by the National Weather Service from Friday through Sunday.

According to the NWS, a Pacific storm system will bring periods of moderate to heavy rain to the Pioneer Fire burned area in the Boise and West Central Mountains of Idaho from late Thursday through Sunday. The NWS says this will be a long-duration event.

With storm total rain amounts approaching three inches, flash flooding, mudslides and debris flows are possible in the burn area.

That is why Boise County is prepared with an emergency plan already in place.

"As the first rainstorm on the Pioneer Fire it might be worth paying attention to," Boise County Emergency Management Coordinator John Roberts said, "and I think everyone is kind of watching it."

Since finding out about the heavy rain headed their way, Boise County officials have been working with other key agencies for the past couple of days, in order to ensure they can respond to emergencies quickly. All hands are on deck in situations where roads, homes and people may be in danger.

Roberts says normally, this much rain wouldn't be such a problem this time of year.

"But because of the fire scar and Pioneer Fire 190,000 acres that are impacted there then that creates a concern because that water will run off faster than it would normally with vegetation out there," Roberts added.

Vegetation and trees slow water down, allowing it to sink into the soil - but that was scorched when the forest went up in flames.

For the next few days while rain is expected, Roberts says there are crews from different agencies geared up and ready to go if things take a turn for the worse.

"We work with the highway department for Highway 21, we work with the county road department for Highway 17, or Banks Lowman Road."

Lowman's volunteer fire department and the Boise County Sheriff's Office are also a part of the emergency response.

"Each of those responders are ready to roll when they get the phone call," Roberts said.

Emergency management is mainly worried about two big drainages that flow into the Payette River: the Clear Creek and Rock Creek drainages, which were charred by the Pioneer Fire.

The owner of Southfork Lodge - a restaurant, bar and lodging destination in the heart of Lowman - is preparing for flooding and slides.

"After the fire it's just a fact that we have to deal with," Southfork Lodge owner Chris Armour said. "The problem with flash floods unlike the fire itself is you might get very little or no warning."

While Armour is concerned about what this rain could bring along with it, he says they are ready.

They've been meeting with other businesses and people in the area who know the best defense is to be as prepared as possible.

"If it gets to the point where we need to sandbag, we are ready to go," Armour added. "When you're in the mountains, flash flood hazard is something you have to deal with. And post-fire event three to five years afterwards it's just part of living here."

Boise County officials are also encouraging people to get valuables packed and safe just in case.

The Pioneer Fire has burned about 190,000 acres and is about 70-percent contained. Fire officials say it will likely keep burning until snow falls.

KTVB spoke with the Burned Area Emergency Response Team in the Boise National Forest at the end of September. They are currently working to rehabilitate the eroded land scorched by the fire and reducing post-fire threats. 

MORE: Fire crews work to rehabilitate Pioneer Fire land
 

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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