Valley Voices from the Past: River above 1948 mark as floods create highway disruption

1948 flood in the Clearwater flats. Pictured is the CTP planer mill yard. (Courtesy of Len Sollows)1948 flood in the Clearwater flats. Pictured is the CTP planer mill yard. (Courtesy of Len Sollows)
A truck drives through flooding on Dunn Lake Road in 1972. (Courtesy of Len Sollows)A truck drives through flooding on Dunn Lake Road in 1972. (Courtesy of Len Sollows)

This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, June 14, 1972, issue of the Times.

Floods dominated the conversations this weekend as the North Thompson River rose to what some claim is the highest level ever, even beyond the height of the disastrous 1948 floods.

Officially, according to Department of Highways foreman Stan Arksey, the reading was 1305.2 feet at 2 p.m. yesterday. The reading was taken at Blackpool and would therefore include Raft and Clearwater Rivers in the North Thompson reading.

Rivers in the area were receding and most persons were optimistic flood danger was past for this year with its late spring, heavy packed snowfall and cool temperatures.

Saturday and Sunday drastically changed the picture. The heavens opened wide (not enough to discourage the boys from the softball tournament taking place in Birch Island, of course), and the rivers rapidly began to rise. The word seeped through to Clearwater that a large volume of water would be forthcoming from Blue River swelling the river as it proceeded downstream.

Surprisingly quiet was the Raft River, which the week previously had swamped the highway with several inches of fast-flowing water just a few yards from the bridge. Sunday its level rose until it touched the edge of the highway and there it remained.

Sunday the department of highways called out all its trucks and men which, combined with a small task force of local trucks, cats and other equipment, converged on the Clearwater flats area between the old highway and the river, and others to the Clearwater Bridge.

Large shovelfuls of earth were gouged out of one side of the road in the afternoon, and dumped on the opposite side where it was speedily moved to form dyking and prevent the raging North Thompson from enveloping buildings in the surrounding area. Trailers were moved by owners to higher spots to be replaced by water seeping through dykes which rapidly surrounded the remaining buildings. A pump truck at the Muskett residence in operation for several days didn’t appear to have made much impression. But the dyke was finally raised and held.

Noticeable were the many sandbags filled by the willing volunteers.

Danger threatened Clearwater’s road lifeline as the ground supporting the Clearwater Bridge was rapidly swept away when the Clearwater River speedily grew out of all proportion covering all its familiar landmarks. The Evangelical Free Church riverside camp just a few yards downstream from the bridge was threatened and several buildings were awash — some said to be held from the river’s grasp by a length of rope.

The bridge pilings were believed to be rapidly loosening and some persons were afraid the structure would be torn away. Trucks were dispatched for loads of rocks which were poured around the base and secured the wooden bridge. Traffic was slowed down but was only closed off for brief periods.

The school board at Birch Island decided school buses would not run Monday and Tuesday, although schools in the district were not closed. Most, however, had only a small attendance. Buses were back to normal Wednesday, except the East Blackpool route.

Following return to their base at Birch Island after a hard day Sunday, highways department crews discovered the North Thompson had burst over its banks and was rapidly advancing on the lower levels towards homes and the department of highways yard. At the peak the flood waters were said to be almost three feet deep. The swift-flowing water swept across the Birch Island road and highways officials were forced to call in equipment to being dyking which continued until the early morning hours Monday.

A cut was made across the road several feet wide and a Bailey bridge installed to allow traffic to proceed. Houses in the area round about were soon inundated by water which formed two new streams short-cutting away from the regular channel, over pasture land, then across the road in a wide swath back onto grazing land rejoining the river further along.

Residents on the railroad side of the river, most of whose gardens ended at the water’s edge, reported the river too close for comfort but apparently were in very little danger as the water swished within a few yards of their homes. At least one residence had a flooded basement, but most of the problems occurred on the opposite bank.

The water continued to pour through its new channels all day Monday and machinery was moved in to begin dyking the North Thompson’s bank — a job which continued until the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The river is thought to have reached its peak in this area early Tuesday and had dropped several inches by 7 a.m. by which time it was again contained within its new banks as the overflow streams began drying up. The highways department yard was still under water but was under control. homes will likely take a while to recover from the extreme damp.

Meanwhile, the Blackpool area was believed to have been badly hit with families driven from their homes by the ravaging water. Cattle was said to have been swept downstream — their grazing lands under several feet of water.

Highways department foreman Stan Arksey at Birch Island gave an optimistic report to the Times Tuesday morning, saying the situation was improving but there were still problems. He said Clearwater was now beaten and in no more danger. Birch Island was now well dyked and was draining out. The height of the river had dropped six-tenths of a foot from 2 p.m. Monday until early Tuesday, and Mr Arksey added he had had a report from Blue River that water had dropped a foot, which would be noticed in Clearwater by Wednesday.

On the problem side was a logging bridge at Wire Cache which had washed out and Mr Arksey felt this could cause trouble. He is having the bridge watched carefully. Water was still on the road at Lost Creek and there was still 1.5 feet over the Blackpool road which held up through traffic. East Blackpool was also out.

Describing his own situation at Birch Island, Mr Arksey said for the past few days he has not been able to leave his house unless wearing hip waders but his home was not in too much danger as water was still seven or eight inches from the floor.

Speed of the river was estimated at about 24-25 mph. At the height of the water last week speed was 22 mph.

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