Kaleidoscope: After the fire

History Museum explores Eagle Creek fire

The History Museum explores the impact of fire — positives and negatives — in its new exhibit, running through the end of May.

Photo by Trisha Walker
The History Museum explores the impact of fire — positives and negatives — in its new exhibit, running through the end of May.

The Eagle Creek fire began Sept. 2 and was officially declared contained on Nov. 30 last year, but the effects are still being felt, from closed trails to lost business revenue.

The fire is the subject of the History Museum of Hood River County’s latest exhibit, entitled “FIRE: Eagle Creek 2018,” inspired by the conflicting viewpoints about how best to manage the forests once the fire was contained, Executive Director Lynn Orr said in a press release.


A video monitor shows television coverage of the fire as it unfolded in September 2017.

“Mesmerizing, terrifying and destructive, FIRE is a natural process that is also the engine of renewal,” begins the museum’s informational panels, which were edited by Professor Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington. “Fire threatens human life, property and strains economic and political systems. But importantly, fire is an integral part of many natural ecosystems. The destructive/beneficial dichotomy is played out in our Northwest timber country. The 2017 Eagle Creek fire underscores the duality of this natural phenomenon.”

The exhibit, open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Sundays, uses panels, books and news clippings — including daily briefings issued by the Forest Service during that time — to tell the story of how the fire unfolded. Two monitors, running news station coverage of the fire as well as infrared aerial footage provided by Hood Tech Aero with assistance from Brian Prange and Devon Wells, add further depth.

Photographs vividly show the environmental impacts of the fire, both during and after. The exhibit examines topics ranging from the toll of the fire in Cascade Locks, the entirety of which was issued evacuation orders by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3, the day after the fire started, to the 121.4 miles of impacted trails and 15 impacted parks within the burn area, most of which are still closed today.

One of the first displays is a simple box containing only matches, a single cigarette and a small sleeve of firecrackers — a frank reminder that most fires are caused by humans, not nature.


Forest firefighter outfit and gear — weighing about 40 pounds — is also on display.

“The Forest Service worked closely with the museum,” said Orr, as evidenced by the display of a firefighter’s uniform and pack — which carries a warning not to touch due to possible poison oak contamination.

For all the negative impacts of the Eagle Creek fire, the positives are also on display here; namely, how fires are a natural phenomenon that help to remove debris, diseased trees and fosters new forest growth. The history of forest fire management is also explained — beginning with its inception as a Forest Service policy in 1910 —along with a nod to Smokey the Bear, who appeared on the national scene in 1947.

“As a natural event, the Eagle Creek Fire was an amazing success, not a disaster,” one panel concludes.

The exhibit runs through May.

Besides the Forest Service, the museum worked with a number of partners on the exhibit, including first responders, photographers, press and local environmental groups, said Orr in a press release. “Each has a special relationship with our forests and wildlands,” she said.

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