New fire on the list: Eagle Creek

Forty six USFS firefighters as well as helicopters worked to contain the 13-acre Eagle Creek fire over the weekend. The fire has closed access to several trails as well as Wattum Lake.

Photo by Adam Lapierre
Forty six USFS firefighters as well as helicopters worked to contain the 13-acre Eagle Creek fire over the weekend. The fire has closed access to several trails as well as Wattum Lake.

A 13-acre fire in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness area of the Mt. Hood National Forest has closed several popular trails and recreation areas.

The Eagle Creek fire ignited Friday and has closed sections of the popular Eagle Creek Trail (#440), a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (#2000), and sections of the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness including the Wahtum Lake area.

Trails which were closed over the weekend will remain closed until the order is given to lift the closures,” said U.S Forest Service Information officer Chris Bentley. He added that the Forest Service was hopeful the fire would be mopped up by the end of the week, but could not guarantee that.

The fire is believed to have been human-caused, likely from a campfire started by a hiker.

According to the Forest Service, there has been a rash of human-caused fires this week in the Mount Hood National Forest, which have endangered the lives of both firefighters and the public.

According to Bentley, of the 75 fires in the Forest this summer, only seven have been started by lighting or natural causes.

The Eagle Creek fire has now covered 13 acres and due to the warm temperatures and extremely dry and windy conditions, the public is advised to avoid affected areas.

As of press time, the closures include: Wahtum Lake campground, Indian Springs campground, Pacific Crest Trail (from the intersection with Herman Creek trail to Indian Springs campground), Cinidere Cutoff trail from PCT to Wahtum Lake, Indian Springs trail, Eagle Creek trail (from the junction with Eagle Benson trail south to Wahtum Lake) and Eagle Tanner Trail.

PCT hikers and horse riders are being diverted to forest road 1310-660. Motorized vehicles are now banned from this route to allow for diversion traffic.

Three USFS crews battled the blaze over the weekend, and Bentley said that difficult terrain meant that the fire would likely not be fully contained.

“The vast majority is contained and they are mopping it up,” he said, acknowledging that without access to certain fire lines, full containment is not possible.

The Forest Service advises that fires are currently only allowed in designated campgrounds within fire rings. In addition to the campfire restrictions, all motorized vehicles, including off-highway vehicles, are still prohibited from going off-road or using any national forest system trails.

Bentley issued a press release reminding forest users that smoking is only allowed in an enclosed building, vehicle or an area free of all burnable groundcover. He also noted that individuals may be held responsible for the cost of suppressing fires.

This summer has seen a record amount of acreage burned across the country, and with extreme fire conditions persisting in the Mt. Hood National Forest, Bentley said the USFS has hired a fire prevention crew to help educate the public in the Mt. Hood and Gifford Pinchot national forests about the fire danger.

Firefighting efforts have put a significant strain on the USFS budget, with Bentley saying “the money ran out in June” for firefighting efforts, and that the forest service has had to pull money and resources from other projects to help fight fires.

He emphasized that even though it is now colder in the mornings, those who use the forest should still avoid using campfires for warmth, and should instead rely on sleeping bags if they are camping overnight.

“If people are caught with fires that get out of control, they can be held responsible for costs of resources of fire crews and lost natural resources,” Bentley said.

With resources stretched, Bentley said the forest service is relying on the public to help dampen the fire risk.

“We have fewer resources for more severe fires, and more dry conditions,” he said. “We need the public help to try to mitigate it.”

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