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Preparations underway for flooding, landslides before rain returns to western Washington

Landslides are less likely early in the season, but are possible, especially in areas scarred by wildfire.

RENTON, Wash. — Much of western Washington is looking forward to forecasted rains heading into the weekend, hopeful that it will give some relief from wildfire smoke.

But the rain also marks the start of a season that carries potential flood and landslide hazards, which emergency managers are preparing for, especially in areas scarred by fires. 

"What burning does is it can actually change the nature of the surface of the grounds so that less rain sinks into the soil," University of Washington Professor of Geomorphology David Montgomery said. "More of it runs off and that can collect downstream and cause erosion and help trigger debris flows and landslides in areas that have burned."

Montgomery said trees and vegetation destroyed by fires create a problem because roots play a critical role in helping to keep the soil together. 

That makes burn scars areas of concern, including for King County Emergency Management (KCEM). 

"We're concerned about flash flooding and landslides and debris coming down from the mountains," KCEM Director Brendan McCluskey said. "There are some extreme areas of risk in Skykomish area, Bering, Grotto."

Officials have been meeting to discuss risks and form public information plans to make sure people are aware. KCEM encourages people to sign up for emergency alerts here

Montgomery said while landslides could happen this weekend, they're more likely to ramp up near the end of fall and the beginning of winter, once the soil has some time to soak.

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