Lightning Storm Punishes Fire-Devastated Countryside

A punishing lightning storm and threats of flash flooding were not what many Clackamas County residents wanted, coming on the heels of 10 days of devastating wildfires that have burned across hundreds of thousands of acres, but as they say: When it rains, it pours.

The much-anticipated rain finally arrived Thursday night. Unfortunately, it brought with it lightning and powerful winds that downed fire-weakened trees and blocked roads throughout the region.

The charred and hollowed-out areas around Molalla, Colton, Estacada and other communities impacted by the Riverside Fire were in no position to absorb the deluge that was predicted, and officials warned residents — some of whom had only just returned to their homes — to be wary of potential mudslides.

A flash flood watch remains in effect through Friday evening.

The Riverside Fire in Clackamas County has covered an estimated 137,865 acres and had 647 personnel assigned to it as of Friday morning. It was estimated to be 10% contained.

“While the rains may help dampen fire growth for a few days, they will continue to present other hazards for our firefighters and communities,” said Incident Commander Alan Sinclair. “Please avoid roads near previous fire activity, low-lying areas, and continually check weather alerts to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.”

A punishing lightning storm brought a new round of headaches to the area Thursday night, toppling fire-weakened trees and blocking numerous roads.

Though the rains are sure to help, fire managers do not anticipate they will be the end of the Riverside Fire. It will likely continue to burn in deep layers of needles on the forest floor, stumps, logs and standing dead trees, officials said.

Hand crews and dozers continue to make progress constructing and connecting fire lines on the west and north sides of Riverside. Once fire lines are in place, firefighters will be mopping up and eliminating hotspots 20 to 30 feet within the fire’s perimeter.

On the east and south sides, firefighters are looking for opportunities to use existing roads outside the wilderness area as the safest, most effective opportunities to limit the fire’s spread in the remote, rugged terrain.

The Mount Hood National Forest remains closed to the public until crews can safely access the roads.

At this stage, firefighters’ priorities continue to be the safety of the public and first responders; local communities in Clackamas County; ancestral tribal lands; infrastructure including powerlines, recreation sites and facilities, hydro and natural gas energy resources, communication sites.

They also hope to protect federal, state, and private forest resources; archaeological, historical, and cultural resources; designated wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers; river ecosystems and riparian areas; wildlife and fisheries resources and habitat.

Fortunately, the rains have brought some relief to the extremely unhealthy — and even hazardous — air quality that has plagued the region since last week. Check for the latest in road closures.

Add the removal of a walnut tree — and fixing a fence — to the to-do list for this Molalla-area home. Photo courtesy Ben Millar.

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