Eagle Creek Forest Fire: It Breaks Your Heart

Forest Fires Are Common in the PNW

A nearby forest fire is dropping ash on the Lodge. It is quite surreal.

Forest fires have always been a part of life in the Pacific Northwest, but they have always been someplace far away, near someone else’s community. Eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Nevada. Fires out there are standard this time of year.

Forest fire ash on the railing outside a hotel room

As I started outside to take some pictures, the crew at the front desk caught me, and we talked for a moment about the fires. “It breaks…” Dylan trailed off into something else, thinking better of it. However, he had hit the nail on the head. I asked him to continue his thought. “It breaks your heart.”

Dylan cleans ash from the nearby Eagle Creek fire off a guest's car

This One Is Close to Home

We went outside where Dylan and a few other managers and agents were helping guests to brush the ash off their cars. The pavement, which we resurfaced just last month, now looks like the sun has been beating it for years. The world has an eery yellow glow, not too different from the hours of partial eclipse leading up to totality. Yet it is the opposite. You can glance at the sun without any pain – though you still don’t want to look for long as you’ll still damage your eyes – and in the evening it’s blood red. Anytime you open your mouth you find bits of ash at the back of your throat.

Looking at the sun through the smoke

Highway 14 and Interstate 84 are closed and impassable.

The forest fire closest to us puts many of the places we love in harm’s way – Multnomah Falls and much of the Columbia River Gorge, the forests surrounding Vancouver and Portland.

Some of our employees have been told to be ready to evacuate their homes in Washougal. From Washougal through Camas to Vancouver, it’s not that far. Washougal is about halfway from the Lodge to Multnomah Falls. In all, a forest fire is raging less than 25 miles away.

When you hear about the fires far away, you don’t think too much about them. It’s about like Hurricane Irma about to hit Florida. You know it’s horrible, but if you haven’t lived there, you just can’t connect. When it’s at your back door, it’s different.

 Update – September 6: The First Steps in Fighting This Fire

The Firefighters Who Saved Multnomah Falls Lodge stand in front of the waterfall

Photo: Multnomah County Search & Rescue

Thankfully, the Eagle Creek fire has “slowed way down“. We’re happy to see that firefighters were able to save Multnomah Falls.

This time of year, Washington and Oregon enter a drought. It’s no surprise, really. The rain stops sometime shortly after July 5th, and we don’t see much again until after the kids have been in school a few weeks. Sometimes it can be October before we see the rain.

The Eagle Creek wildfire is a stark reminder why local governments place bans on burning.

Growing up in the area, I have to admit I never realized just how important these bans were. Depending on what happens in the near future, today’s PNW children may never forget.

Update – September 7: Now the Top Priority

The Eagle Creek fire is now the top-priority fire in the nation. Things are turning around, and firefighters have slowed the spread. But at only 5% containment, the battle is still very much uphill.

Update – September 17: Seeing It For Myself

On Saturday, I represented our family vineyard at a fundraising auction at Maryhill Museum of Art. Because I had stopped over south of Portland before heading out, I took the route over Mount Hood. Normally you can see the peak all the way from Portland. This time, however, I think the first time I laid eyes on it was approaching Government Camp. Even from there, it was pretty hazy. I snapped a few pictures after I was on Highway 35 heading toward Hood River.

Arriving at the vineyard, it was still smoky. However, it was nothing compared to when I had toured pFreim Family Brewers with the crew from Hudson’s a few days previous.

On the way to pFreim, and after the tour. Looking at the same hill. In the earlier shot, you can’t even see the water of the Columbia River. The difference was incredible to witness.

I also took a photo from the highest elevation at the vineyard.

You can see the smoke in the air, and after pulling one of the Pinot Noir 115 grapes to see how close they are to harvest, I am guessing it won’t be long now. I wonder how the forest fire is going to affect the wine.

Once I had picked up the wine for the evening, I headed to Maryhill. The smoke and the vineyard’s proximity to the fire was a constant topic of conversation.

Close To The Fire

After the auctions ended and everyone had had their final pour of wine, it was time to pack up and head home. By this time, I had traveled to the region by way of Highway 14, as well as by way of Highway 26 and 35. To come home to Vancouver, I would go by way of Interstate 84, as it was the fastest way. At 10:00 PM, I knew I might see some fire, but I was totally prepared for what awaited ahead.

The eastbound lanes were and are closed to all traffic as I write this. This makes traveling westbound haunting – you never realize how normal it is to see oncoming headlights going the opposite direction.

Ahead of me was a single car. As we rounded a bend near Hood River, the fires came into view. What I saw was nothing short of haunting.

When the fires came into view, the car ahead stopped. Now the only light was my headlights and the forest fire. It was surreal and lonely. For the next fifty miles, the only vehicles I saw were the unmanned blockade trucks with their glowing signs, showing that the exits they were blocking were closed. After I would pass them, it was back to the light of my headlamps and forest fire.

Eventually, after several miles, I arrived a the fires, or at least those closest to the road. From 100 feet away, you could see the flames licking the trees around the fires. To be that close was phantasmagorical.

An Opportunity to Help

At our sister property Southpark Seafood, they source salmon from the Columbia River, and from a tribe who live near the fires.  At this time the people of the tribe don’t know if they have homes to go home to. They’ve started an effort to help. How? I’m not completely sure yet. Tomorrow I’ll find out more. I’ll be writing about it for their blog, as our marketing team will be doing our part to help this wonderful grassroots effort.


by Bryan White