A very smoky Pacific Northwest

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.

A very smoky Pacific Northwest
Smoke from wild­fires is degrad­ing air qual­i­ty across the entire Pacif­ic North­west (Image cre­at­ed by the Region­al and Mesoscale Mete­o­rol­o­gy Branch — RAMMB — of NOAA/NESDIS)

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.

Watching the Eagle Creek Fire
Onlook­ers watch the Eagle Creek Fire from one of the scenic view­points in the Colum­bia Riv­er Gorge (Pho­to: U.S. For­est Service)

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:

Chet­co Bar FireRogue Riv­er-Siskiy­ou Nation­al Forest176,770
Nena Springs FireWarm Springs Agency68,135
Cin­der Butte FireBurns Dis­trict52,465
High Cas­cades ComplexRogue Riv­er-Siskiy­ou Nation­al Forest42,120
Umpqua North ComplexUmpqua Nation­al Forest31,568
Miller Com­plexRogue Riv­er-Siskiy­ou Nation­al Forest28,696
Mil­li FireDeschutes Nation­al Forest22,527
Horse Creek ComplexWillamette Nation­al Forest20,710
Horse PrairieDou­glas For­est Pro­tec­tive Association16,419
White­wa­ter FireWillamette Nation­al Forest12,551
Eagle Creek FireColum­bia Riv­er Gorge Nation­al Scenic Area10,000
Jones FireWillamette Nation­al Forest8,536
Rebel FireWillamette Nation­al Forest7,495
Nash FireDeschutes Nation­al Forest4,862
Upper Mine FireBurns Dis­trict4,135
Fal­con ComplexUmpqua Nation­al Forest2,935
North Pel­i­canFre­mont-Wine­ma Nation­al Forest2,750
Sta­ley FireWillamette Nation­al Forest2,234
Indi­an Creek FireMt. Hood Nation­al Forest1,090
Jade Creek FireFre­mont-Wine­ma Nation­al Forest782
Flounce FireSouth­west Ore­gon Dis­trict — Ore­gon Depart­ment of Forestry597
Bear Butte FireWal­lowa-Whit­man Nation­al Forest499
Pota­to Hill FireWillamette Nation­al Forest199
Shan Creek FireRogue Riv­er-Siskiy­ou Nation­al Forest156
2017 Mal­heur NF Pre­scribed FireMal­heur Nation­al Forest0

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.

Governor Inslee on site at Jolly Mountain Fire command post
Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee vis­its the Jol­ly Moun­tain Fire com­mand post, dis­cuss­es emer­gency response with inci­dent com­man­ders (Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee’s office)

This past week­end, the Gov­er­nor declared a statewide emer­gency in all of Wash­ing­ton’s thir­ty-nine coun­ties in response to wild­fire con­cerns.

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:

Bridge Creek FireColville Agency3,709
Jack Creek FireOkanogan/Wenatchee Nation­al Forest2,154
East Crater Fire Gif­ford Pin­chot Nation­al Forest1,000
Norse Peak FireOkanogan/Wenatchee Nation­al Forest18,822
Jol­ly Moun­tain FireOkanogan/Wenatchee Nation­al Forest20,975
Uno Peak FireOkanogan/Wenatchee Nation­al Forest2,382
North Fork Hugh­es FireIda­ho Pan­han­dle Nation­al Forest2,600
Dia­mond Creek FireOkanogan/Wenatchee Nation­al Forest95,000
Quar­ry FireMt. Bak­er-Sno­qualmie Nation­al Forest130
Suiat­tle FireNorth­west Region-Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources216
Noisy Creek FireColville Nation­al Forest4,000
Burnout Road FireNorth­west Region-Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources48

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.

Pio­neer Burned Area Emer­gency ResponseBoise Nation­al Forest188,405
Payette Wilder­ness FiresPayette Nation­al Forest69,651
High­line FirePayette Nation­al Forest67,942
Pow­er­line FireIda­ho Falls District55,529
Hanover FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests23,333
Bearskin FireBoise Nation­al Forest19,296
Moose Creek 1 FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests16,801
Ibex FireSalmon-Chal­lis Nation­al Forest14,503
Hid­den FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests10,529
Lone Pine FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests10,152
Rat­tlesnake Point FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests4,626
Buck Lake FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests3,920
Chute Creek FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests2,753
North Fork Hugh­es FireIda­ho Pan­han­dle Nation­al Forest2,600
Tap­pan FireSalmon-Chal­lis Nation­al Forest1,650
Hon­ey­moon FireSalmon-Chal­lis Nation­al Forest1,330
Mis­souri FirePayette Nation­al Forest1,277
Buck FireIda­ho Pan­han­dle Nation­al Forest1,265
Strych­nine FireIda­ho Depart­ment of Lands1,020
Mink Peak FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests817
Prong­horn FireNez Perce — Clear­wa­ter Nation­al Forests48
Boise Misc. Fires — Boul­der FireBoise Nation­al Forest10

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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