Flooding from torrential rains caused havoc Thursday afternoon in Butte County’s fire-scarred hills and canyons.
Rising waters forced an hour-long closure of Highway 99, prompted numerous evacuations on the hills around Paradise, temporarily stranded 50 vehicles in a canyon, and required a water rescue of three families trapped by rising creek waters in their homes.
Cal Fire spokesman Rick Carhart said his agency’s swift water rescue team had to ferry residents of three homes on Horse Run Lane, a low-lying area at the bottom of the hill below Paradise and near Highway 99.
Some 50 vehicles, include a Cal Fire truck also were temporarily marooned on Lower Honey Run Road. Those vehicles were eventually able to make it down the road when the rains eased and water stopped sluicing across the mountain road.
“It just rained a whole lot today,” Carhart said. “The storm didn’t take anybody by surprise. We were ready. But it was quite a bit to deal with, a busy day.”
The Butte County Sheriff’s Office ordered a series of evacuations throughout the afternoon of areas both on the slopes where the Camp Fire hit this month, and in low-lying areas nearer Highway 99.
Those include Honey Run Road and all its adjacent roads from Skyway to the town of Paradise, an extention of previous orders earlier in the afternoon. Evacuations were also ordered for Centerville Road and all its feeder roads from Honey Run Road up to Harris Road.
Esquon Road was also ordered to evacuate from Mesa Road to the north end of the street, including parts of Garden Road.
Cal Fire officials report some of the flooding along Honey Run Road involved the type of post-fire “debris flows” that had worried county officials – essentially slurries of water, ash, and fire debris. Those had subsided though by evening, no longer covering the road surface, though Honey Run remained closed Thursday evening.
The sheriff’s office also issued an evacuation warning as well Centerville Road from Harris Hills Road to Nimshew Road, and asked residents there to shelter in place.
The sheriff’s office ordered evacuation warnings for areas south of Hegan Lane and north of Highway 162 between the Sacramento River and Highway 99 as well as the Hamlin Canyon and Lower Neal Zones, which are areas below Paradise within the perimeter of the Camp Fire.
Several vehicles were reportedly stuck on Honey Run Road earlier Thursday afternoon when a rain squall dumped up to 2 inches on the hillside.
By evening, State Route 70 was closed from the Feather River Bridge to the State Route 89 junction and State Route 191 was closed from Airport Road to Paradise Dump Road due to flooding and mudslides in the burn scar area, according to Caltrans.
National Weather Services officials said two more sets of storms are expected in the coming days. Butte County officials are warning people in fire-scarred areas around Paradise to be on continued alert for debris flows and flash flooding.
The Chico Police Department announced an emergency alert just after 2 p.m. warning residents on Bruce Road from Chico Canyon Road to Skyway of potential flash floods.
Police said there were many flooded roadways and downed trees and power lines in the city due to the storm, but by 3:15 p.m., the department said the rain was easing up and traffic was beginning to clear up.
Sgt. Omar Pena of the Chico Police Department said rain has been coming in waves, causing some localized street flooding, but crews have managed to protect housing in the city.
Pena said the situation in Chico is largely dependent on conditions in the higher elevation Camp Fire zone, but responders will continue working to keep drainage clear.
In the valley below, all lanes of Highway 99 in both directions were closed just after 1 p.m. between Neal Road and Estates Drive, according to Caltrans. The agency announced Highway 99 was reopened as of 2 p.m.
Caltrans spokeswoman Deanna Shoopman said the flooding on 99 is due to torrential downpours in the area and is not related to mudslides or debris flows from the Camp Fire.
First responders at the closure estimated anywhere from 12 to 18 inches of flood waters, Shoopman said.
Inspectors were on site searching for a potentially clogged drain on the highway, Shoopman said.
California Highway Patrol incident logs reported that a woman driving a rental left her vehicle by the intersection of Honey Run Road and Centerville Road due to floods. In the log, CHP said her car would have to remain where it is until the flooding goes down.
At least two vehicles stopped functioning after drivers attempted to push through flooded roadways near Estates Drive and Highway 99, according to CHP reports.
Sheriff’s officials had said Wednesday that they hoped to begin letting Paradise residents next week back into areas burned in the recent Camp Fire, which destroyed much of the town.
But they warned the rains could delay that process by slowing county and utility company efforts to make the hillsides around Paradise, Concow, Magalia and Pulga safe for permanent reopening.