Mudslide carries cars near Sheep Mountain Lodge
Heavy rainfall triggered a mudslide near Sheep Mountain Lodge along the Glenn Highway.
The Lodge is the starting place for the Fireweed 400, a bike race to Valdez and back. Spectators and cyclists at the lodge witness the slide first hand.
“It was building and building. It was like a giant, brown Slurpee coming down the strip,” said assistant race director Ralph Comellas.
Lodge owner Mark Fleenor said there was thunder and lighting over Sheep Mountain on Thursday afternoon and the area has had three weeks of rain.
“All of a sudden the staff alerted me to what sounded like a rock slide and there was mud and debris cascading off the cliff faces up there,” Fleenor described.
He knew his property wasn’t in harm’s way– but it turns out his airplane was. Comellas alerted Fleenor his Supercub was going down fast.
“I had to move it at the very last second. It was stuck in the mud,” Fleenor said.
Comellas said the mud had reached the wheels by the time Fleenor got there.
“It took all of his engine to get it out, all the power of the engine. Then a wave [of mud] hit the back of the plane and broke it loose and he was able to power out of there,” Comellas said.
The Fireweed 400 began as scheduled on Friday. The Fireweed 200, 100 and 50 are all set to begin as planned on Saturday morning a well.
Fleenor said it’s a good thing the mudslide happened before the race. Participants typically camp on the Sheep Mountain Airport runway, the tail end of which is now covered in debris.
He said it’s not the first time the area has had problems; Fleenor said another slide happened about seven years ago in the exact same location.
“This seems to be a little bit bigger. At that time they were saying it was a 100-year event but not quite 100 years,” he laughed.
The slide also took down a slew of cars. Fleenor said his neighbor, who is known as the “Volvo Doctor,” owns the land between the runway and the lodge. Fleenor estimates there are about 80 vehicles on the property, many of which are now entombed in sludge.
“I can’t put a cubic foot on it. But it’s immense, it’s enormous,” Fleenor said.
They want to get as many of the cars out before the mud solidifies. Fleenor said it’s a big undertaking that will require hard work and heavy machinery.
The National Weather Service says wet weather will continue over the weekend in the Mat-Su Valley, while rivers in the area are also expected to rise due to rainfall, mountain snowmelt and Glacial melt. No flooding is expected, but riverbank erosion is a concern. KTVA Meteorologist Rachel Penton says heavy rainfall is expected Saturday, with the heaviest bands between Anchorage and the Mat-Su. Penton says Anchorage could see a half-inch of rain Saturday, while areas further inland could see up to an inch. It will also be breezy and cool with high temps in the upper 50s. Rain is expected to move out early Sunday.
Fleenor hopes the rain will hold off long enough for the cyclists to have a dry race and his crew to move the debris.