CASCADE LOCKS, Oregon – It is one of the worst disasters in Oregon history for the last 50 years. The Eagle Creek Fire is the number 1 firefighting priority in the nation, officials said on Friday morning. The blaze was 33,328 acres and 7% contained as of Friday.
A 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Washington, lit firecrackers and tossed them into Eagle Creek Canyon, setting alight one of Oregon's most beloved and frequently-visited places, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
The Columbia River Gorge is a treasured place. "It's where people have their first hikes, where they take photos to send home or post on their Facebook page. Memories gone up in smoke.
The Hood River County Sheriff's Office updated its evacuation notices because of increased fire activity. A new Level One (Be ready for a potential evacuation) has been issued along Collins Road in Dee at the south end to Interstate 84 on the north end. The sheriff's office also expanded a Level 2 (Get set to leave) on the northeast half of Cascade Locks. It is being extended east to Viento State Park along the I-84 corridor.
Crews will stay here for much of the day to keep an eye on the mountain, but luckily, the crews saved all the residents and their homes this morning.
The cause of the fire is unknown at this time, but the fire started after a thunderstorm passed through our region. Again, crews will stay at Candy Mountain and throughout the local neighborhoods, throughout the day.
By Wednesday, the fire had already forced almost 2,000 residents from five communities on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge to evacuate. "All of the structures are a top priority," says Elisabeth Dare, a field ranger with the U.S. Forest Service based in the Columbia Gorge. Fire crews worked overnight to save the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge – the most popular tourist attraction in the scenic area – from what a daily fire report described as a "fire storm of falling embers."
At this point, it's too early to know what damage may happen to other property or buildings. Steep terrain and thick smoke make the Eagle Creek fire especially difficult to fight, Dare said, adding the fire will burn at least until the area gets "serious rain, and potentially past that." The state of Oregon declared the fire a conflagration, freeing up more resources to fight the flames.