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Twisp Digs Out From Flash Flooding After Carlton Complex Fires

Anna King

Maggie Garrett’s eight Arabian and Appaloosa horses whinnied and struggled last Thursday night in their pens, mud up to their bellies. Garrett had jumped in a truck with her neighbor to save the horses she calls her babies from drowning in a flash flood.

Like many people in Finley Canyon near Twisp, Wash., Garrett is digging out this week from mud that ripped through canyons in north central Washington State. Because the record-breaking Carlton Complex wildfires have left soil and rock primed to run downhill, more damage could be on the way.

“Chunks of buildings going by”

“The water came down so fast and so strong,” Garrett said. “All I could do is stand on the road and watch my horses fight to stay above water. And to watch some of them almost give up.”

Garrett said her horses wouldn’t have made it if she hadn’t called their names and asked them to get back on their feet.

“And they would,” she said. “They would fight and fight and climb back up.” Garrett said she felt helpless as she watched damage done all around her.

“Chunks of buildings going by,” she said. “Chickens going down the river.” Garrett watched a 12-ton stack of her horses’ hay get blown apart like paper.

Garrett was able to free her horses, and they lived. She still hasn't had time to wash her jeans, caked in mud up to the hip.

Water everywhere

Three small lakes penned up behind private and public dams rushed that night into the valley below. But state Ecology department experts say even more damage came from 1½ in. of rain. It funneled down the barren hillsides into the canyon bottom; nothing held it back.

Credit Anna King
Rory Williams stands near his farm in front of Benson Creek. The creek is normally a trickle in August; it overflowed Thursday night in a flash flood.

The next morning, a large river slicked over a smooth stretch of highway and formed a 20-foot tall waterfall. Cattle and chunks of pavement washed away. Homes were inundated. Residents used small tractors, chainsaws, and shovels to save their remaining property.

Rory Williams is a 30-year-old father of two. His family, their home, their pigs and their chickens all escaped the mud. But his driveway and alfalfa field are obliterated.

“All the food that we’ve put away for wintertime is gone,” he said. Looking around his farm, Williams sees nothing but work.

“It’s just overwhelming with having to deal with the fires that just came through here you know a month and a half ago,” he said. “We’re ready for it to be done.”

Plague of problems

Williams’ fence is destroyed; so is his irrigation line.

For his irrigation to come back, dams up the valley also need to be repaired. Washington state officials and private engineers are working on those this week. And residents have been warned: if dams can’t continue to hold back the large lakes behind them, it’s unclear if irrigation will be restored to Finley Canyon.

“What’s next,” a weary resident asked. “Frogs falling from the sky?”

Credit Anna King
Northwest News Network
No vegetation holds back water, soil or rock on the large areas burned by the Carlton Complex fires in north central Washington state.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.