HAILEY — The worst of the flooding on the Big Wood River could be yet to come.
The river last crested on May 8 at 7.8 feet at a flow of 5,950 cubic feet per second, Vernon Preston, with the National Weather Service in Pocatello, told a crowd at a town hall meeting at the Blaine County Community Campus.
But, he said, most of the snowpack hasn’t yet melted. For example, Mount Vienna had a 57-inch snowpack and is down to 52 inches now, while the Lost-Wood snowpack is about half-melted now with 23 inches left, and Dollarhide Mountain had 52 inches of snow and is down to 40 inches now.
“We’ve basically just started to melt that snow,” Preston said.
The next week or two is expected to be cooler, which means the river will likely recede somewhat but also means delaying the snowmelt. Preston said he expects the river to peak between May 28 and June 9.
“We have only just begun to fight this fight,” said Brad Richy, deputy chief of the Idaho Office of Emergency Management.
Communities in Blaine County have been dealing with flooding for the past week. Forty houses in Hailey near the Big Wood River on West Cedar Street, Della Vista Drive and other nearby streets are under a mandatory evacuation order. Almost half of them had to be evacuated on Friday, with the rest being evacuated earlier in the week. Closer to the river, the streets are covered with water, with some houses surrounded by water too.
“That area is pretty much impassable by road,” Fire Chief Craig Aberbach said.
The evacuees have mostly been staying with family and friends, Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson said.
“We had a shelter situation prepared but no one has asked for it yet,” she said.
A couple of dozen homes along Warm Springs Creek near Ketchum, another area that has been particularly hard-hit, have also been evacuated.
Groundwater levels were already high before the flooding started, said Hailey city spokeswoman Anne Jeffery.
“Before this even started the ground was saturated,” she said.
According to Idaho Power, 120 people in the Ketchum and Hailey areas don’t have electricity. The flooding has claimed one life — Mike Wirth, a landscaper who drowned in Ketchum after getting trapped in a flooded basement.
“Our condolences go out to his family,” said Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who was in Hailey with other state and local officials Saturday morning to answer people’s questions about the flooding.
Otter said he plans to ask for a federal disaster declaration for the area, which will determine much about how much aid is going to be available to rebuild. Another federal declaration has already been approved for the Magic Valley and some other southern Idaho counties due to flooding in February.
“This is a crisis,” Otter said. “This is a time when we need to recognize we’re not simply neighbors. We’re family.”
Hailey resident Holly Wheeler said she has been running three pumps in her home all day, at a cost of more than $150 a day, to try to save her home. She said she doesn’t feel like she and others in her situation have gotten enough help or guidance as to what to do.
“I really don’t feel that it’s trickling down to us individual homeowners as best as it could be,” she said.
Aberbach said the government agencies involved plan to set up an information center next week, which as well as helping people keep up on what’s happening could also serve as a point where people in need can make requests or others who want to help can see what is needed. People have already stepped up to help fill sandbags at the stations the city has set up.
County Commissioner Angenie McCleary thanked the emergency personnel and others who have been busy this week, and the ordinary people who volunteered to help fill sandbags to protect their neighbors’ homes.
“At times like this I’m reminded what a strong and wonderful and compassionate community we really are,” she said.
Otter and the others all urged people to stay off the water. As well as the more immediate physical danger of getting swept away, Jeffery said some of the flooding is in areas where there are septic tanks, which could contaminate the river.
“It is extremely important that people stay out of the water, even downstream,” she said.
Richy said the rivers are “extremely dangerous.”
“Just understand what jeopardy you’re putting the first responders in too,” he said.