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North Fork Residents Evacuate Ahead Of Mountain Floods

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Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
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Selma Metzger and her grandson look at their nearly flooded home

This weekend’s string of heavy rain has put a lot of pressure on families and local officials to respond to the threat of flooding, especially in mountains. Residents in some communities have even been forced to evacuate to escape the rising tide.

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Many a normally small, peaceful mountain creek has now been transformed is now a broad fast moving river.

The days of heavy rains have caused the Madera County Sheriff to order mandatory evacuations in some of the low-lying areas of the town of North Fork south of Bass Lake.

Selma Metgzer lives in a mandatory evacuation zone. She stands by what used to be a creek and looks out at her home, which is just inches above the water sitting on pylons but still completely surrounded by the flood.

“Well, I was really bad yesterday but today I think I am going to be OK. As soon as it goes past, if it stops raining, it will be OK I think,” says Metzger.

Metzger is currently living up the hill in a trailer with relatives until the flood recedes.

This is not the first time that she has seen her home nearly flooded out. The last time was two decades ago, when heavy rains and snowmelt filled the many mountain creeks and streams.

“We did this about 20 years ago. At the same time. It was a little worse 20 years ago. But now its…I don’t know. We still have out house though,” says Metzger.

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Down the street from her home, Talon Wood is trying to fix a tire to get a long stationary mobile home at the Bass Lake Mobile Home Park up and moving again.

The park is in a low lying area next to a stream and in a mandatory evacuation zone.

Wood says he has lived here his whole life in the area but never seen the creek rise so fast.

“No, never. When I was a kid it got pretty high but not that high. I guess it’s pretty crazy because it didn’t seem like it rained that much. But I guess it did because it filled up real quick,” says Wood.

Residents have piled much of the contents of their homes in big stacks outside under flapping blue tarps. It’s an attempt to make the trailers lighter so trucks can move them to higher ground.

However, some can’t be moved at all, leaving residents like Sandra DeBoard to evacuate and hope that their homes are still standing when they are allowed to return.

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Credit Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
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Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
Talon Wood tries to fix a trailer tire

“How awful. That is scary. I mean, I don’t what to say about it. It’s our home. Who wants to lose their home,” asks DeBoard.

This mobile home park was only recently added to the list of mandatory evacuations. DeBoard says she is disappointed, not only by the late notice to leave or else, but also by a sense that not enough water was released before the rains that, in her mind, contribute to the flooding.

Even areas not in mandatory or recommended evacuation zones are feeling the effect of the mid-winter storms which are compounding the damage of recent mountain wildfires.

Leroy Skipp and his family built a small ridge to divert water from off of a hill just to the east of his property.

He says the hill, less than 200 yards from his home, burned in the Willow Fire leaving behind scorched trees and other waste that are now being caught up in the waters.

“The fire was right up there and burned the two homes down. Now we have debris coming down from the burn area because it is all just silt and soot coming down. There is nothing to hold it back anymore,” says Skipp.

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Credit Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
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Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
Leroy Skipp

A Madera County sheriff’s deputy I spoke to, who asked not to be recorded, says most residents in the tiny town are taking the threat of flooding seriously and evacuating without too much trouble.

However, the threat of losing their home and their possessions to a January flood remains a real, and quite literally rising threat just yards from away.

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.