Gorge fire aftermath to block trails until spring
Gorge trails may remain closed as late as spring 2018 on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, fire officials say.
"If you enter into the closed area, you're putting yourself at risk," warned U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at the Troutdale Policing Community Center. "You may not recognize signs that you're actually inside an active fire area."
Evacuation notices for the Eagle Creek fire have been lifted for all of Troutdale on the west side of the Sandy River.
Medium-level precautionary evacuation orders are still in effect in Latourell and the Larch Mountain area, as well as Salzman and Alder Meadows roads and East Haines Road.
Mandatory orders to leave are still in effect in Dodson, Warrendale and Bridal Veil, plus Brower Road, Towle Road and the Historic Columbia River Highway east of Alex Barr Road.
One hiker, who posted video and aerial drone footage from inside the restricted area, has already been cited, Pawlitz said. Entering the restricted zone or even flying a drone over it are both prohibited activities.
Massive plantings are not expected within the gorge, which is a federally-designated wilderness area with strict rules governing forest management. Those rules essentially call for foresters to "let nature take its course," Pawlitz said.
"We all love the scenic area and wonder how scenic it will be when the smoke lifts," Pawlitz continued. "I just want to remind everyone that fire is a natural event … It is natural on the landscape."
Pawlitz suggested that hikers explore trails in Washington while waiting for the end of cleanup efforts for the Eagle Creek wildfire.
Fire officials say dry winds from the west primed the fields for burning, causing a "stronger showing" for the fire on Tuesday, Sept. 12, said fire manager Jim Whittington.
"That primed the fuels," Whittington said, "and it became really evident that fuels were responding to the drier air."
The fire crossed Herman Creek around 5 p.m. Tuesday and moved about two miles toward Shellrock Mountain, something firefighters had hoped to prevent.
"We're still in good shape to protect the community," Whittington noted.
Interstate 84 remains closed in both directions between Troutdale and Hood River, said Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Don Hamilton.
At least 3,000 trees have been removed from the eastbound shoulder of I-84, a number that is likely to rise in the coming days.
ODOT snowplows have been enlisted to shove downed trees and rocks off the Historic Columbia River Highway in order to keep the road clear for firefighters. The highway will likely remain closed long after I-84 reopens, Hamilton predicted.
"We've seen the pictures of the underbrush that has been burned away in this area," Hamilton said. "That's a good recipe for increased slides over the area. That's going to be a long-term assessment."
In a brief speech, Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann hailed the "heroic" efforts of firefighters.
"I hope people remember that this was a time when our community pulled together and overcame adversity," she commented. "East County and I are so grateful."
A burnout to remove potential tinder is planned near Hood River on Wednesday, which should help protect Cascade Locks. The fire is now 13 percent contained. Just fewer than 900 firefighters remain assigned to battle the conflagration that has consumed about 36,000 acres.