Conconully, Washington — Bryan Smith feels lucky to be alive after a mass of mud, rocks, water and logs chased him a quarter-mile down a twisty Forest Service road Wednesday evening. He was driving his pickup in reverse with a 35-foot trailer hitched to it at the time.

Bryon Goetz, meanwhile, spent an anxious night with his 3-year-old son stranded at Salmon Meadows Campground north of Conconully, where he and Smith planned to drop off their trailers and return on Friday after work, ready to relax and enjoy the three-day weekend.

“If they’d have gone in as a group, someone could have gotten killed,” said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, who headed Thursday’s rescue of three families stranded by the mudslide. He said there’s no way two vehicles pulling trailers could have backed out quickly enough to escape without someone getting broadsided and swept into the rushing creek.

A quarter-mile of Salmon Creek Road was covered in debris measuring 6 feet deep in spots. An Okanogan County Public Works crew and the sheriff’s search and rescue team spent much of Thursday clearing a temporary path so the campers could drive out.

Smith was on his way to the campground at the end of the road Wednesday just as it broke loose. He said he saw movement in the bushes, and was watching for an animal when a log come shooting out of the woods in front of him, followed by water and debris.

“I started to back up, thinking it was going across the road. But then, the whole hillside started to come down. So I started backing up even faster. I looked out my window and I could see the hillside coming down next to me. I was backing up and it was coming, coming, coming,” he remembered. He said he could hear the engine of his pickup straining to keep up with his demands. “It was like something you see on TV, but I was in the middle of it,” he said.

When the wall of mud came to within 10 feet of his truck, he prepared to jump out and run up a hill, thinking how grateful he was that his 9-year-old son decided to stay home and play Wii instead of coming along to help set up camp. Soon after, the flow slowed, and he backed over a bridge to safety. He said the noise of it amazed him. “You could hear the boulders going down the creek, and all the trees breaking. It was something else.”

Smith figures Goetz and his boy were 5 minutes ahead of him on Salmon Creek Road, and also barely missed getting broadsided by the mudslide.

Goetz said after waiting for about two hours, he thought Smith must have broken down, so he drove back down and discovered the road covered with deep mud and impassible. He called out to report the slide, and make sure Smith was all right.

On Thursday, Okanogan County Public Works Department employees cleared a temporary path and escorted three pickup trucks towing camp trailers, and a motorhome, out of the area.

Full Story & Photos…



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