May 24 2019
PORTLAND, Oregon - The Eagle Creek Fire has closed the Columbia River Gorge. The fire began on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.
The Oregon Department of Transportation announced Sunday evening that Interstate 84 through the Gorge, will be closed for at least another week — "the minimum time required to complete rock removal," the agency said in a press release. The Historic Columbia River Highway also remains closed, with no current schedule to reopen.
Most of the day's activity was concentrated on the western and eastern edges of the Eagle Creek Fire. Firefighters built direct line (line right along the black edge of the fire) to the south of Bridal Veil. Along the Interstate 84 corridor crews are engaged in mopping up existing cold firelines and burning out small pockets of fuel.
So far Multnomah Falls Lodge has survived the fire. Huge flames surrounded the entire ridge of the famous falls, burning trees and causing landslides. During the peak of the fire, flames reached as close as 30 yards from the lodge. But thanks to the efforts of Oregon fire departments working around the clock, structural damage to the lodge was prevented.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 6, Multnomah Falls Lodge was free of fire damage.
"Multnomah Falls is the crown jewel of the gorge for us," said Beth Kennedy, natural resource interpretive specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. "We are thankful for the efforts that were made to protect it."
As the fire began spreading through Labor Day weekend, a virtual army of fire engines, water tenders and firefighters was sent to protect the lodge, located 18 miles east of Troutdale. The biggest concern was the cedar shake roof, which would only need one errant ember to ignite, officials noted. As flames encroached on the landmark, crews worked to keep the structure wet throughout the night.
The fire, which had consumed more than 30,000 acres as of Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 6, had moved west from Eagle Creek to wrap around the lodge.
On Wednesday afternoon, trees and rocks fell from the ridge line, and flames reached down to spots along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Smoke from smoldering blazes was visible along the ridgeline above towering cliffs scorched black. Flames surrounded the lodge from midnight until about 3 a.m. Monday, Sept. 4, when crews were finally able to push it back.
With no fire hydrant access at Multnomah Falls, crews replinished their water supplies from Multnomah Creek. At one point the lodge lost electrical power, but firefighters noted you couldn't tell because the fire was so bright.
"There is not one single agency represented here," said Lt. Rich Tyler, spokesman with Portland Fire & Rescue. "We all came together to work as a team."
In total, 67 fire districts have responded to help fight the Eagle Creek Fire, with many departments on the scene at Multnomah Falls.
"How they were able to save the lodge — save it in the midst of hellish fire — is amazing," said Gov. Kate Brown, who visited the falls Wednesday afternoon. "The Gorge is a very special place for many of us, and these firefighters made heroic efforts to save the lodge."
While the worst seems to be over, the crews protecting the lodge aren't going anywhere. The plan is to remain in place until officials are 100 percent sure everything is safe. The current concern isn't based on return of the fire, but from falling trees and boulders no longer held in place by stable root systems. Several troubled trees have been marked, and preemptive actions taken to try to keep them from falling on the lodge.
The iconic Benson Footbridge that spans Multnomah Creek — a popular photo-taking spot — appears undamaged, though the trail leading to it is inaccessible after the wooden bridge closer to the lodge burned down.
Although the situation isn't completely under control, and many repairs will be needed, the lodge — for now, at least — is safe.
"It's still Multnomah Falls," said Damon Simmons, information officer with the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office. "It's still here."