For months, authorities across the Pacific Northwest have been warning that our region was facing an extreme wildfire risk this summer that would only be exacerbated by a lack of precipitation. As we approach the autumnal equinox, those fears have come to pass, with a series of devastating fires burning up and down the Cascade crest, as well as in other areas of the region.
In Oregon, the fire that’s currently dominating the news is the fast-moving Eagle Creek fire, which has shut down I-84 between Troutdale and Hood River. The fire is threatening the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge and has already charred some of the most pristine areas of the Columbia River Gorge.
Firefighters are battling the blaze but haven’t been able to stop it from spreading, and it is considered to be at zero percent containment.
Governor Kate Brown’s office provided this synopsis of the latest developments today prior to a media availability in Troutdale:
Governor Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act in response to the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area at 2:44 p.m. today. At the time of the declaration, the entire town of Cascade Locks was under a Level 2 evacuation, with other homes in the community and the Oxbow Hatchery at Level 3. In addition, the fire threatens Bonneville Power lines in the area.
“Crews are deployed throughout Oregon fighting some of the most intense wildfires in the nation,” Governor Brown said. “The swift action of fire crews responding to the Eagle Creek Fire and heroic efforts of our Oregon National Guard saved lives, and I thank the crews still on the front lines who are working actively to contain the fire.”
The Eagle Creek Fire was reported Saturday afternoon at approximately 4 p.m., grew to 3,000 acres overnight, and is now approximately a half a mile from Cascade Locks. For their safety, 153 hikers had to shelter in place near Tunnel Falls last night, but the Oregon National Guard was able to successfully rescue the hikers. Currently, all hikers are accounted for and are reported as safe.
The Hood River County Sheriff initiated additional evacuation notices to the immediately impacted community of Cascade Locks.
A Level 3 (Go) evacuation notice was given to residences south of Interstate 84, and all residences north of Interstate 84 are under Level 2 (Be Set) evacuation notice. A Red Cross Shelter has been set up at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, immediately across the Columbia River in Stevenson, WA.
The cause of the Eagle Creek fire has been determined to have been man-made, potentially from the misuse of fireworks. A suspect has been identified and additional information will be released as the investigation develops. This investigation is being jointly conducted by the Oregon State Police, U.S. Forest Service, Hood River Sheriff’s Office, Hood River District Attorney’s Office, and fire personnel.
Via InciWeb, here is a list of all the major fires currently burning in Oregon:
Click on a fire’s name to see a summary of where it is burning and what is being done to contain it. The largest fires are the Chetco Bar Fire, Nena Springs Fire, and Cinder Butte Fire. The Eagle Creek Fire is highlighted.
Meanwhile, in Washington State, Governor Inslee was at the command post for efforts to contain the Jolly Mountain Fire near Cle Elum.
Inslee’s office offered this background in explaining the decision:
“Current weather forecasts predict continuing elevated temperatures throughout the state for the next seven days, providing hot and dry conditions, that, combined with the existing high-risk fire fuel conditions, support an active burning environment capable of producing significant multiple wildfires requiring the need for additional immediate response throughout the state,” Inslee wrote in the proclamation.
Firefighters are battling multiple fires east of the Cascades, including the Jolly Mountain Fire in Kittitas County. That fire has grown to more than 14,500 acres and is currently threatening local communities, homes and businesses. Roads have been closed and Level 2 and 3 evacuation orders are currently in place for nearly 4,000 homes.
Inslee’s proclamation notes that the availability of firefighting resources through the state and western United States is limited due to existing and projected fire conditions and activities throughout the region.
The proclamation allows the use of Washington National Guard resources to help fight fires, and directs state agencies to utilize state resources and do everything reasonably possible to assist affected political subdivisions.
The State Emergency Operations Center is currently activated at Level 2 to help monitor the situation and coordinate state firefighting efforts.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, meanwhile, has ordered a total outdoor burn ban, effective immediately, for all of Washington’s public lands.
With multiple fires burning on the landscape and communities suffering from dense layers of smoke, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has expanded its burn ban to cover the entire state.
“Wildfire and smoke is affecting every community around the state as we see the hot, dry summer take its toll on our forests,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
“Without any relief from this weather in the foreseeable future and with our firefighters spread across the Northwest, we can no longer allow outdoor burning anywhere in Washington.”
DNR has been implementing burn restrictions regionally as local conditions warranted. The statewide ban means outdoor burning is prohibited on all forestlands that DNR protects from wildfire.
Anyone caught violating the burn ban can face fines. Prescribed ecological burns in rare instances may be allowed if expressly approved by Commissioner Franz.
Burn restrictions on federally-owned lands, such as national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges or other areas are administered by federal agencies. Counties and local fire districts may have additional burn restrictions.
On Monday, Labor Day, DNR firefighters responded to twenty-one new fire starts.
Fireworks and incendiary devices, such as exploding targets, sky lanterns, or tracer ammunition, are always illegal on all DNR-protected forestlands.
Via InciWeb, here is a list of all the major fires currently burning in Washington:
Click on a fire’s name to see a summary of where it is burning and what is being done to contain it. The largest fires (highlighted) are the Diamond Creek Fire, Jolly Mountain Fire, and the Norse Peak Fire. The others are much smaller.
Conditions in Idaho are also not good. The Gem State’s list of fires is shorter than Oregon’s, but twice as long as Washington’s.