A Big Horn River ice jam southeast of Lovell caused flooding that put three homes, two barns and several outbuildings under water for a few days.
The section of the river that overflowed is located north of Sheep Mountain Canyon, not far from the Georgia-Pacific Gypsum plant. The flooding affected several properties located along Spence Oil Road, causing extensive damage to at least three homes.
According to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn, members of the Marsh family were in their home on Spence Oil Road when they heard a loud “rumbling” sound coming from the direction of the river. He said the sound was caused by chunks of ice breaking up and jamming a section of the river near their home. He said the jam almost immediately caused the river water to breach its banks.
“Within about 15 minutes the ground went from completely dry to chest high with water,” said Blackburn. “They looked out their window and saw ice chunks jamming on top of each other, piling up almost seven feet in the air. In a matter of minutes, the entire Big Horn River started out of its banks. The ice blocked the channel and literally rerouted the river into their fields, home and barn.
“They tried to get their stuff out of the way but the whole thing happened so fast that they actually had to wade out to their horse corrals to get their horses out. The horses were already up to their necks in water.”
Blackburn said the Marshes were able to save their two horses, but a lot of their farming equipment sustained severe damage, as well as equipment that Ernie Marsh uses in his silversmith business.
Blackburn said the amount of water quickly created electrical hazards. He said the Big Horn Rural Electric Company responded immediately, shutting off the electricity to the area to avert any safety concerns created by power sources coming into contact with the water.
“I thought Rural Electric did an outstanding job,” said Blackburn. “They got the power shut off quickly and that was really important.”
Blackburn said people like the Marshes enjoy living in the remote area. He said the Marshes, who moved to the area from Oregon, had no idea of the potential for flooding in the area.
Blackburn said most of the worst ice jams and flooding have been in the south end of the county. Areas affected include Worland, Basin, Greybull and Manderson.
“A lot of people who live on the north end of the county don’t realize what a problem the flooding has caused, because they haven’t seen it. It’s been quite harrowing, especially on the south end. It’s been really difficult for everyone involved.”
Blackburn said though the waters have receded in most areas, the potential for more flooding exists in the future, but for a different reason.
“The flood waters are going down for now, but I don’t think anyone should go to sleep thinking it’s over,” said Blackburn. “Given the amount of precipitation we’ve had and the moisture on the mountain right now, we probably should mentally prepare for a wet spring. And, if we have a wet spring and a quick warm-up, we’re going to have flooding again.”
Blackburn said the ice is gone for now, the river is flowing back in its channel again and most areas are still mopping up the damage.
“The river seems to be moving pretty good, so, for now, the worst of it is over,” he said. “As far as we can tell, the entire river is opened up again from Worland to the ML Ranch in Lovell. We feel pretty good about that and think we’re through with the ice jams for this year.”
Blackburn said at one point, nearly every deputy was on duty and the local Search and Rescue teams were deployed. He said even his office staff worked overtime to put together the required paperwork for disaster relief assistance.
“It takes a lot of people and a lot cooperation to deal with this kind of stuff,” he said.
Blackburn commended all of the volunteers, local law enforcement staff and Big Horn County Emergency Management Coordinator LaRae Dobbs and others for their efforts during the ordeal.
By Patti Carpenter