Storms bring increased landslide danger

A flood watch continues for Southern Oregon through this morning, with increasing potential for landslides in the region, according to the National Weather Service.

"These are the kind of storms that would frequently bring some slides and rock slides, but thus far we haven't seen a whole lot of that activity occurring," said John Vial, director of Jackson County Roads and Parks.

Vial added that some areas in the county are more prone to landslides during wet weather. Hillsides above the Tiller-Trail Highway have seen a bit of a slump but haven't progressed toward the road significantly.

"We've been watching that very closely," Vial said.

The Wagner Creek area near Talent is another location that's been hit hard during very wet weather in the past.

The Siskiyou Pass along Interstate 5 also can be a problem spot. In 2006, several landslides caused about $3 million worth of damage to drainage systems along the corridor, the Oregon Department of Transportation reported in its archives.

"It's not everywhere we're concerned about. It's mainly these areas with steep slopes and drainage areas," said Bill Burns, Oregon Department of Geology engineering geologist.

State geology data shows the most landslides have been documented to the south and southeast of Ashland, dotting the Siskiyou Mountains.

Because of this, state geology officials said motorists should exercise caution when traveling over mountainous areas. Drivers should be alert, especially at night, as roadside embankments can collapse and send rock and other debris into the roadway.

"Just being more aware while you're traveling is a good idea," Burns said.

The most high-risk areas for landslides and debris flows include the bases of steep hillsides, road cuts and other areas where hills steepen, and in the bottoms of canyons.

Debris flows are high-speed landslides that can travel over a mile and wipe out everything in their path. River or stream water that suddenly turns muddy is a sign of a potential debris flow, Department of Geology officials said.

Flooding is possible for Little Butte Creek, Bear Creek and the Rogue River, and the Sprague River in Klamath County.

Burns advised homeowners living near slopes to exercise caution during the wet weather, adding rainstorms are a great time to make sure water being collected and carried from the property is discharging correctly.

"We've just seen it over and over again," Burns said. "If (water's) not discharged in a proper place, it can cause a problem."

The recent deluges have been hard on the thousands of miles of roads in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

"We have a number of small slides, downed trees and plugged culverts on all of our districts right now," said forest spokesman Paul Galloway. "We have crews out now clearing them as they find them."

Travel into some areas of the forest may be delayed because of the road restoration work, he cautioned.

While the entire forest has been impacted, the Gold Beach Ranger District has been hit the hardest, he said.

Portions of Chetco River Road, Hunter Creek Road and Mt. Emily Road in that district are impassable and have been barricaded because of storm damage, officials said. It is unknown when those roads will reopen.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or Paul Fattig also contributed to this story.

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