Surging water also engulfs Carlton homes
By Marcy Stamper and Ann McCreary
The first thing Ron Race did, the day after his family had waited out last week’s flood of Texas Creek from the safety of their roof, was to power up his backhoe and extract his riding lawn mower from the culvert where it had been deposited by a torrent of water and mud.
The flood had given notice of its imminent arrival at about 5:30 p.m. on Thursday (May 28), when Race and his family heard a deafening noise that sounded like a loud wind — their brief warning about the wall of water, trees and debris rapidly approaching their house, said Ben Wilmot, Race’s nephew.
Wilmot had just minutes to leap across a small footbridge to reach the house and get the rest of the family to safety on the roof. Fortunately, since the house is built into the hillside, Ben, his wife, Holly, their two young girls, and Race’s wife, Cheryl, were able to climb a slope to reach the roof.
“I briefly saw something coming. I knew it was major and I ran. By the time I got to the house, it [the flood] must have completely exploded,” said Wilmot. The water rose several feet in a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile, Ron Race was stranded in the shop on the other side of what had become a rushing river. “It was so loud, we couldn’t hear each other,” said Race. Wilmot said they spent about two and a half hours on the roof until the flood started to subside. They could communicate with Ron through an intercom system on their phone.
No one was injured in any of the flooding, and property damage was mainly confined to garages, outbuildings and yards and pastures.
The mudslide caused extensive damage to the Races’ landscaped yard, carrying away the footbridge, cement planters and birdhouses, and flattening a row of junipers, but their house was not damaged. Although the water shoved a large deck off its foundation, it only lapped at the deck surrounding the house.
Race pointed to where the creek had spilled over a concrete wall at least 8 feet above the normal creek level. The flood also carried away eight cords of cut and stacked wood, which, along with large trees that had been uprooted by the creek, were strewn across their property. The water line on trees and a gazebo in the Races’ yard was about 6 feet off the ground.
On Friday, there were still large puddles — small ponds, really — surrounded by an expanse of mud in what had been the Races’ landscaped rockery and grassy lawn.
Texas Creek is normally a placid water feature in the Races’ yard, about a foot wide and less than a foot deep. During the height of the flood, Race estimated it had spread across an area 60 feet wide.
Cheryl Race flipped through an album with photos of the row of 6-foot-tall trees that bordered their driveway. After the flood, only two or three were still standing, the other 14 plastered against the mud and silt.
Mud hits Carlton
The flood and debris flow appear to have traveled from the north fork of Texas Creek, about 4 miles up the road, past the Races and their neighbors, and on into Carlton, where people at the bottom of the creek found their homes and property engulfed by water. Byron Braden, who lives just east of the Carlton Store, said mud had flowed from a neighbor’s driveway across his pasture and around his house, ultimately filling his garage with about 8 inches of muck.
Texas Creek residents reported only light showers in the afternoon, but the weather gauge at Mount Leecher recorded 0.14 inches of rain in a one-hour period during Thursday’s storms. Still, that gauge was not located where the rain was heaviest, said Craig Nelson, district manager for the Okanogan Conservation District.
“The radar showed that the most intense rainfall — over Texas Creek — missed the gauges,” said Nelson.
The warning gauges installed last summer start emitting continual readings after 0.05 inches of rain has been received in five minutes or less. The readings are sent to the National Weather Service in Spokane, said Nelson.
About an hour before the flooding developed, Braden said he saw storm clouds towards Mount Leecher. As part of his work with Aero Methow Rescue Service, Braden monitors the emergency radio. Once he heard sheriff’s deputies were being dispatched, he quickly moved his vehicles out of the garage. “I feel very lucky, considering how bad this could have been,” he said.
Braden’s neighbors, Craig and Abbie Lints, also found their house surrounded by mud, with 18 inches up against the back door, but Craig Lints estimated that only about two gallons of mud actually came into the house. By Monday, dried mud on their patio had the consistency of concrete, he said.
Their driveway took the hardest hit and is completely washed out, with gulleys 12 to 16 inches deep, said Lints.
Firefighters and neighbors used shovels and Pulaskis to build a berm to divert the floodwaters and mud from the Carlton fire station. Still, the flow had slowed enough in town that children wearing rubber boots played in the knee-deep muddy water.
Emergency road work
Crews from Okanogan County Public Works replaced a culvert about 4 miles up Texas Creek Road on Friday (May 29), where debris and rocks carried down the north fork of the creek had partially clogged the 2-foot-diameter culvert, said Okanogan County Engineer Josh Thomson. “It looked like good-sized rocks and debris came down,” he said.
Debris falling from the road, which had been eaten away by the flash flood, crushed the culvert further. The workers pulled some debris and logs out of the creek, but two large piles near the culvert were already stacked from a salvage logging operation further up the north fork, said Thomson.
County road crews also cleared wet mud from the roads near Carlton and will return to clean the ditches after the ground dries out in about two weeks, said Thomson.
While there were localized heavy rains throughout the area again over the next several days, Thomson said there had not been other serious road damage. The road crew unclogged a culvert near Upper Beaver Creek Road on Friday night after the area supervisor spotted it on his rounds, he said.
Along the length of Texas Creek, which normally flows in a narrow channel contained between steep banks, there were tangles of logs and branches, grasses caked with mud, and lots of debris.
Stuart Skidmore, acting county executive director for the Farm Service Agency, was on Texas Creek on Friday to assess damage to fencing that the agency is helping install for farmers and ranchers who lost fences in the Carlton Complex Fire and subsequent floods. “We already turned people loose to replace fencing. I don’t know if we automatically get money to build the fence twice,” said Skidmore.
Two dozen private property owners with homes and land at high risk from flash floods have signed up for protective rock berms through a program administered by the Conservation District. A contractor began installing the emergency dikes at 12 homes this week, starting at the south end of the valley and heading north. They expect the construction to take three weeks.
The berms are intended to protect homes by diverting the water away from them. In some cases the fortifications involve building up driveways to deflect the flow, said Nelson.
Because the rock structures must be quite large to be effective — generally 12 feet wide at the top and 15 to 20 feet wide at the base — and are intended to be permanent, only about one-fourth of the property owners chose to participate, said Nelson. The participating landowners are in the Texas, Frazer and Benson creek drainages, on slopes between hills and the Methow River, plus one in Okanogan.
The Races did sign up for the program, and engineers are going back to reassess their property. They will most likely turn the driveway itself into the berm, said Nelson.
Nelson said the Texas Creek flood was instructive. “It doesn’t have to rain on your head to get the flash flood. And this case really proves that,” he said.