2017 Wildfires affecting Oregon State Parks
The fire season has affected State Parks in many areas, from places you’ve probably been like Ainsworth in the Columbia Gorge, to hidden gems like Alfred Loeb on the Chetco River near Brookings.
Last week, the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge captured attention in the Portland Metro area. In an incredible display of speed and power, it burned over 11 miles in one night through some very well-known and heavily used recreation resources in the Columbia Gorge on both US Forest Service lands and Oregon State Parks lands. Also, the Chetco Bar fire near Brookings is still the largest fire in the nation, and threatens the Alfred Loeb State Park.
The damage from Eagle Creek is not fully known. Fire crews are still in the process of putting the fires out, as it is only 7% contained. The Oregon Parks & Recreation Department (OPRD) will be working with local agencies, other land managers and non-profits to ensure that when properties are opened to the public they are safe, and that recreational use on those burned lands can be done in a manner that does not cause further damage.
Chetco and Eagle Creek are just two of the 31 active large fires being fought in the state. Luckily the facility damage appears to be minimal at this point. Based on what we’ve learned so far, it does not look like the State Parks in the Gorge have lost any significant structures, with the exception of damage to sections of the Historic Columbia River Highway like the Oneonta Tunnel. But there is obviously significant damage to trees and trails across the Gorge. It is not clear yet how much of this is on State Parks lands, so we don’t know how much of the trees, trails and campgrounds will have to be replanted, rebuilt or replaced.
Fire crews have worked extraordinarily hard to save parks from wildfires. They will eventually tame these fires as the weather turns, and after they do, recovery can begin. We don’t know how much we’ll need to rebuild or replace, but we know we’ll need your help to do it.
The smoke and evacuations all over the state have disrupted life, but also provided the opportunity for the State Parks staff to step forward and help the communities that they serve. Many parks on the South Coast have become a safe haven or temporary resting place for residents under evacuation orders, and there are several fire camps and incident command posts across the system.
The Oregon Parks & Recreation Department (OPRD) is working with fire officials to provide support where OPRD can to help get these fires under control and provide safe places for people who have been displaced.
Fire season is not over, and may not be for several weeks, or even months.
Over the next few weeks, OPRD and the Forest Service will coordinate to assess the effect on natural and cultural resources in the Gorge, come up with recovery plans, and then organize staff and volunteers to begin restoration.