Given the “Snowpocalypse” of 2019 in Oakridge, Oakridge and Westfir area residents are a resilient bunch, having just gone through a shockingly traumatic five days of rapid and heavy snowfall in late February that closed Highway 58, causing many of the areas residents to go without power for as long as five days. Trees uprooted by the thousands along the highway were cleared by the heroes of the Oregon Transportation Department and in some cases simple citizens with a chainsaw and some muscle, neighbors came together and put each other first as we as a community pulled through the heavy snowfall, the snow melted and the roads were cleared, and our lives got back to normal, almost. Now we have a new problem, some would say ” when it rains it pours, ” In this case, it does in the form of mud down the sides of hills crossing roads and railroad tracks, and in the form of cascading water into our already swollen lakes and rivers. Causing Hills Creek Reservoir to fill rapidly, I have lived here since 2000, and the lake is at the highest level I have seen it at during my time here. Passing by Salt Creek, Salmon Creek, the Northfork of the Willamette, all looked to be swollen as high as I had ever seen any of them. All of this water going somewhere, rain still falling and snowpack still melting. Highway 58 closed according to ODOT for both east and westbound traffic, an all too familiar feeling for Oakridge residents who lined up for gas, Ray’s Market was busy, and the Dollar Store was busy as well. I spoke with citizens and got the same response, a worried feeling that the power would go out again and that they were trapped again, much like they were during the recent snowstorm that crippled Oakridge and the surrounding area.
According to ODOT’s TripCheck Highway 58 is closed from east of Oakridge at McCredie Hot Springs to Lookout Point Reservoir. Cleanup is slated to be ongoing through the night with the highway remaining closed as long as it is needed to complete the cleanup. With thousands of uprooted trees leaving huge holes where their roots once were, it is not hard to fathom why these mudslides happened, those holes filled with water, the loose soil gives and the soil once started moving builds up momentum and flows often times like water down hills, taking with it trees, soil. and debris. We can expect more of these slides as the rain continues and should be on the lookout for flooding and possible power outages.
Make sure to never attempt to cross moving water in your car or on foot. Always make sure that when your driving and see areas of standing water on the roadway, only cross standing water that is very shallow and that you know where the roadway is to drive on, and only cross when absolutely necessary. Slow down and use a safe speed when traveling through standing water as your car may hydroplane. Hydroplaning happens when the tires of the car cannot displace the water they are traveling on and thus lose traction, if this happens let off the accelerator and slowly reduce speed, if needed slowly and gently apply the brake, avoid jerking the wheel or leaving the roadway if possible.
Written by Stephan Ball