Flathead County officials on Wednesday declared a state of emergency as local waterways charted above flood stage levels, prompting evacuations in areas of Kalispell and the North Fork Road and forcing countywide road closures, Sheriff Brian Heino said during a Wednesday afternoon press briefing.
The Flathead County Commission voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency on Wednesday in response to flood conditions in the valley.
On June 14, when Kalispell set a daily maximum rainfall with 2.07 inches falling, flood warnings were announced along portions of the Flathead River, prompting some evacuations in Columbia Falls and Kalispell.
An emergency declaration allows the county to access special funding from local, state and federal resources, including the county’s own $269,000 emergency/disaster fund.
This is the third emergency declaration by Flathead County since 2003, after declaring an emergency for drought conditions in 2015 and for the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
As of June 15, a pre-evacuation notice was in effect on Leisure Road in Kalispell and on Blankenship Road from Blankenship Bridge to the North Fork Road.
According to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data, the North Fork Flathead River rose to about 9.7 feet Tuesday and had dropped to about 9 feet by Wednesday afternoon.
Evacuations have been lifted on Rabe Road, Lake Drive and the Bailey Lake area in Columbia Falls and the sheriff’s office has established an information line at (406) 758-2111.
The Montana Red Cross has opened an emergency shelter and evacuation center at Columbia Falls High School located at 610 13th St. W. Fewer than 50 households utilized the emergency center on the first day, Heino said.
Road closures include the West-Side Hungry Horse Reservoir Road between Mazie Creek and Graves Creek Road, 7-mile Upper Whitefish/Stryker Road in the Stillwater State Forest, Steel Bridge Road to Muddy Drive in Kalispell, and North Hilltop Road in Columbia Falls, which is open to resident traffic.
“North Hilltop Road is becoming a high concern,” Heino said. “We have law enforcement there and we’ve had to close that road and getting people back to their residences is going to be a very high concern.”
The North Fork River’s drainages and Trumble Creek have produced particularly high volumes of water, Heino said, and authorities continue to monitor those areas.
Officials anticipate more road closures as forecasts predict river levels to rise another foot, and Heino urged motorists to use caution on U.S. Highway 2, where water is flowing over the roadway. The North Fork Road is also becoming a concern as the North Fork Flathead River rises.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Flathead River level was at 14.57 feet, about a foot-and-a-half above the flood stage level of 13 feet. Levels are forecast to rise to about 15 feet by June 21, according to the National Weather Service.
“Our weather is going to change,” Heino said. “We’re going to see some warming temperatures and that does not stop our concerns as the moisture melts off.”
Flathead County Fire Warden Lincoln Chute said public sandbag areas have been set up at Columbia Falls Public Works, the Shopko parking lot in Evergreen and the Echo Lake Fire Hall.
Heino urged residents to monitor water levels at their homes and cautioned that emergency personnel are unable to check conditions on all roads, particularly in remote areas, due to limited staff. Motorists should not drive through water or travel on damaged roads, Heino said.
“You’ve really got to use some caution,” Chute said. “Even on main roads, those edges can be soft. Just use caution, slow down, and take care of yourself.”
Reporter Micah Drew contributed to this story.
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