Threat from 2020 wildfires extends into winter, through damaged soil and foliage

By Brian Bull (KLCC)
Dec. 26, 2020 2 p.m.

This year’s wildfires have left a lingering hazard: burn scars and compromised soil. This means potential flooding and landslides throughout the winter.

Heavy snow and rain will make for soggy conditions across the region. For places like the McKenzie River Corridor, which was ravaged by the Holiday Farm Fire this year, the soil has been stripped of its ability to absorb moisture.

A hillside scorched and scarred from the Holiday Farm Fire, near Waldport, Oregon.

A hillside scorched and scarred from the Holiday Farm Fire.

Brian Bull

Althea Rizzo, geologic hazards program coordinator for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said mud, boulders and trees could collapse in steep areas.


“We don’t have an alarm system for these types of debris flows,” Rizzo said. “So just keep an eye on the hillsides. And they’re frequently preceded by cracking branches and loud pops. Those root systems are starting to break and crack. Make sure that you have a grab and go bag, ready to go in case something happens.”

Rizzo added that if you’re by a river or creek, and the water suddenly turns muddy, that could mean a debris flow headed your way and you should leave immediately.

She said power lines and utility poles are also vulnerable, so outages are another hazard.

“This is a good time to make sure that you have a few days’ worth of supplies, you’ve got your cell phone charged up. Make sure you have enough medications on hand so if you can’t make it to the pharmacy in the next few days, you can tide yourself over,” Rizzo said.

“So it’s just another example of why Oregonians really need to be prepared for any natural or manmade disasters.”

Rizzo warned against people driving or walking through flooded areas, as even just a few inches of flowing water can knock a person down or carry off a vehicle.

Correction: A photo caption in an earlier version of this story gave an incorrect location for the Holiday Farm Fire. OPB regrets the error.