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The Gorge in Flames

A look at what will happen to this historic land

Katherine Ripley, Staff Reporter

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As pretty much every Oregonian probably knows by now, on Saturday, September 2, 2017 a fire began in the Gorge, and as of October 1st it has burned 48,500 acres and is 46 percent contained and slowing significantly because of recent rains. The Oregon State Police believe the fire was started when a 15-year old boy threw a firecracker close to Eagle Creek Trail while his friends filmed him.

This fire adds to the many other fires that had people evacuating from their towns and houses throughout Oregon over the last couple months, though this was by far the most significant in Northwest Oregon. However, when heavy rain moved into the Gorge on Monday, September 18, the fire’s progression was largely stopped. Now, more than a month later from when the fire started, Oregon residents may have a number of questions about what happened and what the lasting impact of this fire will be.

What has been affected by the fires?

The fires that were burning forced many schools to be closed due to air quality and many towns to be evacuated due to nearby fire activity. More than 4,130 damaged trees had to be cut down in order to keep them from falling on places like roads or hiking trails, and it is likely more will come down over time. The fire forced the lanes of Interstate 84 to be closed for several weeks, though authorities have reopened both lanes now that the fire is extinguished near I-84. The closure of I-84 caused places like Cascade Locks to lose lots of revenue because of business not coming in.

What will happen to trails like Eagle Creek trail?

The Oregon side of the Gorge has dozens of beloved trails and the damage to them is pretty significant, and it will likely take years for all trails to get back to being easily usable. According to an extensive blog post on WyEast Blog providing an overview on the fire’s impact, “Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) has set up a mailing list dedicated to Gorge trail restoration, if you’re interested in working on future volunteer projects.” More than 100 trails closed in the Gorge and, sadly, most trails will remain closed through the winter and all the way into spring of 2018, when some are set to open. The Statesman Journal says that “there are obvious places that will be highly impacted… especially Eagle Creek Trail, Horsetail Falls, Larch Mountain Trail and Angel’s Rest Trail.”.

What is going to happen to the 15 year old?

After lighting off firecrackers in a dry forest with friends, people want to see the 15 year old boy, who has still not been publicly identified, have some form of punishment. While he might end up going to prison depending on how the case is prosecuted, this outcome seems unlikely. However, he will likely owe significant debts, or the state might have the teen’s parents pay the debts to the state.

How long is it going to take for the Gorge to recover?

Although the fire is now controlled, the reality is that it did do severe damage to the Columbia River Gorge and some hikes will take 2 years or more for them to become usable again. It did not burn everything, though, and those trees that survived are going to eventually get the Gorge back to its original state by helping to grow new trees and plants naturally in the places that were burned.

Creative Commons photo source:https://www.flickr.com/photos/oregondot/36814454910

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The Gorge in Flames