How to prep for flooding and debris post-wildfires


Flooding in Montecito, California after the Thomas Fire

While Oregon’s wildfire season is officially over, the threat from wildfires is not. Risks of flooding and debris flows often follows in the wake of intense burns.

To help aid local officials, a working group of state and federal agencies released a new playbook to help prevent or cope with potentially catastrophic wildfire after-effects.

Also read: Fire and water: The burn is out but our clean water remains under threat

The number of acres burned in Oregon this year was well above our 10-year average, according to Oregon Department of Forestry Chief of Fire Protection Doug Grafe in a statement to KTVZ.

“High intensity wildfires can destroy protective vegetation and alter soil so it is less able to absorb rainfall and snowmelt,” said Grafe in the article. “After such fires, there can be an increased risk of flooding or debris flows.”

In Montecito, located in Southern California, the Thomas Fire burned the hills above the town of about 9,000. Just weeks later, a debris flow swept through killing more than 20 people.

Several agencies came together to produce this guide aimed at preventing more casualties:

  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Oregon Department of Forestry
  • Oregon Emergency Management
  • Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development
  • S. Forest Service
  • S. Geological Survey

Ryan Cahill, hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in the article that his agency worked with these partners to compile and complete the guide. Among the preventative measures community leaders can take include designating in advance where evacuation centers will be, including animal-friendly locations where pets and livestock can receive care. Additionally, alert systems should be organized and regularly tested.

The entire playbook can be accessed at this link:


If you have concerns about your community’s risk for debris flows following a wildfire, considering contacting your local government.