OTIS — If there’s a single word to describe the residents of Lincoln County, it’s resilient.
That resiliency was on full display on Saturday, when volunteers gave freely of their time to participate in a county-sponsored Salmon River Erosion Control project in the areas devastated by September’s Echo Mountain Complex fire.
While dodging last weekend’s high winds and oftentimes heavy rains on properties torched by the fires that destroyed nearly 300 residences in Otis and Rose Lodge, volunteers spread hay along river banks and throughout burned properties in order to prevent deterioration that can lead to mudslides.
“As a matter of fact, I think for an event like this, we actually got lucky in that everything happened right between the two storms we had Saturday,” Paul Seitz, Lincoln County Solid Waste District manager, said on Tuesday. “I think it went beautifully, and we got everything wrapped up just before the winds picked up. Just as we were heading on our way out it started really pouring.”
Seitz said the effort was initially intended to be larger, with the group hoping to set down erosion control logs known as wattles. However, due to the impending stormy weather, the project was halted after hay was distributed.
According to Seitz, about 15 volunteers arrived at around 8 a.m., as did a delivery of 10 tons of hay. Somewhere around 15 sites received a treatment of hay, spread throughout charred sites and along riverbanks.
Post-fire erosion is always a concern, but especially in areas such as the central Oregon coast, where consistent seasonal rains follow wildfire season. Erosion occurs naturally but can increase to potentially hazardous amounts after a burning event, depending on factors such as rainfall in naturally sloping areas, causing drainages in steep areas to carry debris flows and cause mudslides. After-fire erosion can continue for several years when the root systems of burnt vegetation decays.
“Overall, on Saturday we ended up covering and protecting several hundred feet of riverbank with hay,” Seitz said. “We got all of our primary sites covered, and that’s a big first step in protecting the waterways from the damage erosion can do.”
Hay-covered soil can reduce the impact rain has on burnt soil by instantly increasing the percentage of soil coverage. Barriers, such as wattles, can then be placed on hills and in streams to impede water flow and trap sediment. Grass seeding and re-vegetation of the affected area generally follows.
Seitz said a little less than half the hay used Saturday was distributed by local property owners seeking to help their neighbors in need.
“This community is just so wonderful,” Seitz told the News-Times on Saturday morning at a property in Otis. “They’ve worked really well together, and they’re doing a great job of this in a very tough time for many of the residents here. What we’re trying to do here is protect the fish and the water systems, and the community is really coming together to help do that too. We have a bunch of people out here giving up their weekend day to fight this weather and help their community.”
Seitz added it’s possible that the county will organize a second erosion control project in the near future in order to place barriers around sloping areas, but nothing was set as of Tuesday morning.