A pair of cloudbursts late Friday afternoon that pummeled slopes scorched during last summer’s Rail fire caused flash flooding along the South Fork of the Burnt River about seven miles southwest of Unity, temporarily stranding campers and recreational vehicles and passenger vehicles in the popular recreation area.
No one was hurt, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Firefighting crews from the agency who were stationed in the area to respond to possible lightning-sparked blazes cleared mud, trees and other debris along the South Fork Burnt River Road, which accesses South Fork, Stevens Creek, Elk Creek and Mammoth Springs campgrounds.
Members from the Baker County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team assisted in helping campers evacuate the area.
Lori Schultz, who was camping in the area Friday, posted a video on the Herald’s Facebook page showing water flowing across a road, and a photograph of her travel trailer surrounded by mud and water.
Forest Service engineers surveyed the area Saturday morning and found that water and debris flows had damaged the South Fork Road, No. 6005, as well as many other forest roads, bridges and culverts.
The four campgrounds also sustained damage.
The Wallowa-Whitman has closed much of the area to the public, including the following roads: 6005, 2640, 1230, 1240, 2655, 1695 and 6010.
A ccording to a press release from the Wallowa-Whitman this morning, “Forest Service personnel are working in the area this morning installing barricades and posting the closure order to keep forest visitors safe and out of the hazardous area. More information about the degree of damage will be available when Forest Service personnel is safely able to access the area and assess the effects from the flooding.”
Chris Galiszewski of the Sheriff’s Office’s Search and Rescue team said some campers are archery hunters who were out in the woods when the first of the two storms hit about 4 p.m. Friday.
He said he visited one camp on Saturday where the water had risen about two feet up the sides of a tent.
He said the hunters at that camp had stayed Friday night and were trying on Saturday to extricate their vehicle from a jumble of debris.
“There’s just going to be a lot of clean up,” Galiszewski said.
He drove around the area Saturday morning to make sure nobody was stranded, and to try to assess the damage.
Galiszewski took several photographs, including one showing a jumble of mud and trees that blocks the main South Fork Road, and another photo of an outhouse at a Forest Service campground where the water had risen to about knee level around the structure.
See more in the Sept. 11, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.