Eagle Creek fire contained, but not ‘out’

THE FIRE blows smoke above Cascade Locks in this early September photo. Months later, the fire is not out, but is fully contained.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
THE FIRE blows smoke above Cascade Locks in this early September photo. Months later, the fire is not out, but is fully contained.

Officials have termed the smoldering Eagle Creek fire completely contained — but not extinguished.

The fire that broke out near Cascade Locks Sept. 2 and scorched more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia Gorge will not grow beyond its mapped boundaries, leaders in charge of fire response expect.

For the last month, the multi-agency fire team had listed the fire as roughly half-contained, but Thursday that figure jumped to 100 percent containment.

“We are comfortable at this stage that the fire will not grow outside of its existing perimeter, but there may be fuels smoking in a few places in remote terrain,” said Chris Harper, incident commander for Eagle Creek fire.

The change reflects the incident team’s determination that the fire is not expected to grow, but is not the same as officially declaring the fire “out.” Fuels — timber and other flammable natural materials — may still be burning in hotspots.

Rachel Pawlitz, public affairs officer for the scenic area, on Thursday explained the significant change from half to full containment.

“We had held the number at 50 percent for some time as a reflection of the percent surrounded by containment lines. Today, we changed it to 100 percent contained based on our review of conditions and comfort level that it will not grow anywhere in its perimeter.”

There will still be an incident commander assigned to the fire who will keep tabs on the situation. Within the last month, that position has changed hands several times, with Harper being the most recent leader.

Crews still assigned to the fire are focused on protecting public safety in the closed areas.

Pawlitz said that the number of people varies as resources come and go, but it hovers around a dozen — mostly security personnel and the commander.

The Forest Service’s Eagle Creek Fire Closure, which includes numerous recreation sites in the Gorge National Scenic Area and Mt. Hood National Forest, remains unchanged except for Multnomah Falls Lodge and front plaza, which opened Wednesday (see related coverage on A9).

The opening includes the lodge, front plaza, and the Interstate 84 parking lot.

Meanwhile, many other trails west of Hood River remain blocked off for public safety. More information about the fire closure and the post-fire response is posted on the Scenic Area website at www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa.

Oregon State Police said a 15-year-old Vancouver boy started the fire by playing with fireworks. The prosecutor in the case is Hood River County District Attorney John Sewell.

In October, the boy was accused of reckless burning, among other formal charges. Hood River County Circuit Court officials declined a request from the News for records of the juvenile proceedings, citing an Oregon statute.

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