British Columbia

First came the fires, then came the mud: Clinton residents facing new threat

Last year's back burns around Clinton, B.C., took out all the vegetation from surrounding hillsides. Now, locals are having to deal with mudslides.

Locals impacted by last year's prescribed back burns are now grappling with devastating mudslides

Mudslides are now a growing problem in the same area around Clinton B.C., that was intentionally burned during last year's wildfires. This mudslide on Aug. 2 forced a prolonged closure of Highway 97. (DriveBC)

Clinton residents who were hard hit during last year's wildfires are now facing a serious new threat: mudslides.

Debbie Beech says her house on Highway 97 is in imminent danger of being buried after a rainstorm sent torrents of mud down from the hills, taking out her horse pasture and riding ring.

A mudslide completely covers Loon Lake Road. (Chris Watt)

"The mud is all filled up behind our house and now there's nowhere for it to go but take our house," she said. "There's probably a kilometre worth of fields that have been washed out from the mountainside."

Beech says the area around her property was intentionally set on fire, or "back burned," by B.C. Wildfire crews last summer, leaving the hillsides barren of vegetation to hold the ground in place.

Neighbour Greg Nyman lost cattle in last year's fires. Yesterday, a mudslide ripped through a field cutting off access to his property and leaving almost a metre of debris in a culvert used to move livestock under the highway.

A river of mud and debris washed down from a Clinton-area hillside. (Chris Watt)

"These steep gullies and ravines ... with vegetation they can handle the extreme downpours we get in the summer months," he said. "But when they burn them out, the rain washes everything down. It was moving 1,000 pound boulders across the highway yesterday."

Many locals were critical of the decision to back burn the area last year and angry over how the burn was executed.

The burn set near Nyman's and Beech's properties raged out of control within moments of being lit, taking down power poles, jumping the highway and forcing hundreds to evacuate.

"There was no reason to back burn in the Highway 97 corridor last year, but they did it anyway. It had all burned in the 1960s ... and [the vegetation] hadn't regenerated enough to be a scary situation," said Nyman.

"Now, me and my neighbours are having to deal with it."

Resident Chris Watt says coming on the heels of last year's disaster, the stress and worry over mudslides is almost too much to take.

"Now, when there's a thunderstorm, we're just quivering, because we don't know what's going to come of it," she said. 

According to biologists, it could take 10 years before some of the hillsides become stable again.

 "And it's all because of the back burns," said Beech. 

Both Highway 97 and Loon Lake Road near Clinton have been closed because of the slides. Highway 97 reopened this morning to single lane alternating traffic under the control of an escort vehicle.

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