Fire prompts closures at Eagle Creek Trail July 4, 2017
Forestry officials are warning the public to avoid certain trails west of Cascade Locks due to a fire burning an estimated 6-7 acres.
The Indian Creek fire, which broke out at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, is burning on steep slopes just west of Eagle Creek Trail No. 440, near Seven and a Half Mile Camp, in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness on Mt. Hood National Forest lands.
Agencies focus on safety in Eagle Creek Area
On July 8, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Forest Service and the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office are teaming up to promote safety this summer at Eagle Creek Recreation Area.
The number of Search and Rescues (SARs) has steadily increased in recent years in the vicinity of Eagle Creek. This can drain valuable resources at the Sheriff’s Office and lead to burnout among volunteers.
“Hood River County has a well-deserved reputation as an outdoor playground, but visitors should take their safety seriously,” said Hood River County Sheriff Matt English. “Too many Search and Rescues and tragic accidents each year are caused by reckless, irresponsible behavior.”
Indian Creek Fire grows to 327 acres
The Indian Creek fire, west of Cascade Locks, has spread to 327 acres, spurring more forest trail closures.
The U.S. Forest Service extended its closure of Eagle Creek Trail by two miles to High Bridge for public safety due to the wildfire.
Nearby Pacific Crest Trail remains open. The first 3.3 miles of Eagle Creek Trail, including Punch Bowl Falls, also remain open.
About 150 hikers trapped by fire
A second wildfire along Eagle Creek Trail, west of Cascade Locks, has trapped a group of about 150 hikers Sept. 2. Rescue efforts for that group and an unconfirmed number of other trail users are underway.
No one has been reported injured as of 8:40 p.m. Sept 2.
Emergency officials are not aware of any patients suffering medical issues at this incident, according to Joel Ives, Hood River County Sheriff’s deputy, as of shortly before 9 p.m.
Crews are also working to extract other, separate groups of hikers. Ives said three people on a separate trail were safely extracted. U.S. Forest Service personnel set out on foot to connect with another group of approximatively 16.
Eagle Creek Trail is closed at the trailhead. Firefighters and aircraft from the larger Indian Creek Fire are assisting with the new fire, which is burning about 50 acres.
Eagle Creek Fire grows, forces evacuations
The city of Cascade Locks is under evacuation orders due to the growth of the Eagle Creek fire to about 3,000 acres overnight. This is a new fire, separate from Indian Creek fire to the south.
In other news, the final group of 153 hikers in the Eagle Creek area has been recovered from the Wahtum Lake area and is on the way to the reunification site via bus, according to the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office. There are no hikers who are unaccounted for at this time. One hiker was transported non-critically via ambulance for issues related to exhaustion and dehydration.
Eagle Creek blaze 11 percent contained
Firefighting containment levels inched up to double digit percentages on the Eagle Creek fire, which is burning roughly 35,600 acres in the Columbia Gorge Tuesday morning.
About 905 crew members are assigned to the 11-percent contained blaze.
Evacuations raised to west Hood River
The Eagle Creek fire, burning 41,550 acres Friday, prompted Hood River County Sheriff’s Office and fire incident managers this week to extend evacuation notices into west Hood River — including some areas of the city.
Fire crews advanced on the blaze, containing it at 28 percent. Emergency officials voiced caution for valley residents, however.
A Level One order — “Get Ready” — includes thousands of homes. An American Red Cross evacuee shelter in Stevenson moved to River of Life Assembly church at 979 Tucker Road in Hood River.
Hood River County School District canceled all classes due to smoky, worsening air quality and the Crystal Springs Water District boil water order.
Gorge transportation regained some vigor when Oregon Department of Transportation opened Interstate 84 westbound between Hood River and Troutdale, albeit with no estimate at reopening eastbound lanes. The closure — one of the longest in years, caused by fire-scorched trees and fallen rocks — had been in place since Sept. 4.
Rain eases Eagle Creek fire, evacuations lifted
Generous rain has somewhat calmed the 48,000-acre Eagle Creek fire, which crews have nearly half-contained Tuesday.
Precipitation — a mixed blessing — carries a threat of landslides in burn areas, where vegetation was scorched and soil weakened.
The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for much of western Oregon. The alert said flooding could affect communities between Latourell and Hood River, and possibly Interstate 84. Forecasts state 1-2 inches of rain will fall on burned areas.
Juvenile arraigned in Eagle Creek fire cause
A 15-year-old boy has been arraigned in juvenile court on charges related to causing the Eagle Creek fire, according to a statement by John Sewell, Hood River County district attorney.
Sewell said in a statement, released by Oregon State Police at about noon, The News reported on Oct. 21.
“When the Eagle Creek fire erupted a criminal investigation was immediately begun by the Oregon State Police. U.S. Forest Service investigators have been assisting the State Police in this ongoing investigation. As a result of the investigation legal proceedings have been commenced in the Hood River County Circuit Court. A 15-year-old boy recently appeared and was arraigned on a Juvenile Court Petition.”
Allegations in the petition include acts of Reckless Burning, Depositing Burning Materials on Forest Lands, Unlawful Possession of Fireworks, Criminal Mischief and Recklessly Endangering Other Persons.
Eagle Creek fire contained, but not ‘out’
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 that figure jumped to 100 percent containment this week.
Court date set for teen accused in fire
The next hearing for the 15-year-old alleged to have started the Eagle Creek fire is scheduled for Feb. 16. The teen, from Vancouver, Wash., has been charged with reckless burning and other offenses in Hood River Juvenile Court.
Trail damage mixed
It’s a scene of mixed results at the Eagle Creek burned area, with trails east of Cascade Locks faring better than the scorched terrain west of Multnomah Falls.
Crews have the bulk of their work cut out for them at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge.
Among trails assessed so far, those that fared best include parts of Gorge 400 Trail, Gorton Creek Trail, Herman Creek Trail, Ridge Cutoff 437, and the Pacific Crest Trail. Repair work has begun on some of these trails already, but none of them yet has an expected date for reopening.
Other trails suffered. About 90 percent of Larch Mountain Trail — the popular trail that starts at Multnomah Falls — is covered with rocks along its route to the Upper Viewing Platform, and is in poor shape through its full loop with Wahkeena Trail.
One piece of welcome news: crews have confirmed that the Upper Viewing Platform at Multnomah Falls survived the fire intact.
Teen faces $36.6 million in restitution
The Vancouver youth who started the Eagle Creek fire could have an eight-figure bill to think about in the five weeks leading up to his 16th birthday.
According to the Hood River County Prosecutor’s Office, the teenager is responsible for $36,631,687.10 in damages based on 11 separate restitution claims filed after the destructive Eagle Creek fire in fall 2017. That’s the total bill asked for by the Hood River County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
In Hood River County Circuit Court, Judge John Olson said after a 40-minute session that he needs to consider the arguments, including defense attorney Jack Morris’ argument that the restitution total is unconstitutional.
“It’s an extraordinary amount, and an extraordinary amount of loss,” Olson said.
“Given what’s being sought, I need time to evaluate the constitutional arguments. I will announce as early as tomorrow (Friday). I will devote as much time as I have to.”
Firefighters respond to ‘hotspot’ from fire
Forest Service firefighters have responded morning to a small hotspot reported near Herman Creek.
The glow from the flare-up was reported around 2 a.m. on May 29. Firefighters located the hotspot about a half mile east of Herman Creek Trailhead, north of the Gorge 400 trail, according to spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz.
Two engines and a hand crew from Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area are on scene suppressing the fire.