MP97 Fire nears end, aftermath work begins

MEDFORD, Ore. — When you have an area that’s been hit by a wildfire, heavy rainfall is no longer it’s best friend—it’s actually its worst enemy.

Southern Oregon’s largest fire thus far this summer, the Milepost 97 Fire, is 95 percent contained. While Friday’s rain may be great to help extinguish wildfires, it’s not so great after flames are put out.

“When you have a burn scar and the soil is like pavement, it just runs off so you get a lot more water runoff,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sandler. Depending on how hot the fire burned, it can even cause the soil to be water repellant. “That is what causes the flash flooding,” Sandler said.

Come wintertime or times of heavy rainfall, like possibly this weekend, it can cause dangerous mud and landslides, as well as falling trees.

“The fire scar boundary is the interstate, the east side of it,” said Sandler, “so that’s a big deal if you have steep terrain right along the highway, which you do in most areas.”

That’s why experts from the National Weather Service and the Oregon Department of Transportation are heading up to the fire, to take a look at the potential risks to those living in the area and those driving on Interstate 5.

“They’re trying to determine the most likely areas where we’re gonna see debris slides once we get into the fall and winter area,” said ODOT Public Information Officer Gary Leaming. “They’re coming up with a plan on how to mitigate that so it doesn’t reach the highway.”

ODOT has been removing trees since the fire started but now they’re coming up with a plan of attack, before the wet season. “Land stabilization techniques such as seeding, to building buttress so that any kind of debris slide doesn’t make it to the interstate,” said Leaming.  ODOT said drivers should stay alert while passing through.

“We just want you to be vigilant of that,” Leaming said. “We’ll be out there looking for that too, but you never know what may occur.”

ODOT said depending on how many trees need to come down, they’ll hire a small contractor to remove them later this summer and into the fall.

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