Tuesday Gorge Fire Update; Much Better Conditions Ahead


It’s been a crazy 24 hours!  As expected the Eagle Creek Fire made a huge run during the strong east wind event late yesterday and overnight.

The fire raced 15 miles west from around Eagle Creek to just east of Latourell Falls…in less than 24 hours!  Here’s a 4am fire detection map from satellite, but beyond that time it continued to move westward:

THE BAD NEWS:  Nearly every popular hiking spot and/or waterfall (except perhaps Latourell Falls) from around Bonneville Dam to just east of Crown Point was overrun by fire during the night.  That includes Multnomah Falls (Lodge is okay), Oneonta Gorge and Tunnel, Horsetail Falls, Wahkeena Falls & Angel’s Rest (burned in 1991 fire).  “Overrun” doesn’t mean all the signs, bridges etc… were destroyed.  I just mean that fire passed through or over those areas.  We’ll see the extent of damage in the next few days.  A spot fire also developed across the Columbia River near Beacon Rock. It’s amazing that burning embers made it across the river!  Here’s a pic from Doug Gross, showing the rebuilt Oneonta Tunnel (at Oneonta Gorge) burning last night

and many firefighters from many different agencies protecting structures in the Gorge

THE GOOD NEWS:  The worst of this easterly wind event is done.  Pressure gradients are about to go flat, which means east wind is gone at Troutdale, Corbett, and almost calm now at Vista House.  By sunset wind should be calm almost everywhere in the Gorge.  There won’t be any dramatic fire movement tonight fueled by wind.  And there’s no reason to think fire will move into the rural/populated Corbett or Troutdale areas based on the weather.  Indeed it would be wonderful if we find out there were no homes burned.  As of this hour I’ve only heard a rumor that maybe one burned somewhere…but that’s not official info.

MORE GOOD NEWS:  Increasing onshore wind flow means a west wind through the Gorge tomorrow, not too strong though.  Then a much stronger west wind Thursday could take the fire deeper into Hood River County I suppose although humidity will go way up at the same time.  In the areas that just burned last night and are burning now.  For example, 1,000′ above Bridal Veil?  Today temperatures are in the 80s  up there.  Thursday and Friday temperatures will be in the 60s with even a few showers possible and very high humidity.  Keep in mind that the area the fire just burned last night is a temperate rain forest.  When the wind switches to westerly in September and the moist air lifts, it gets cool and a bit drippy quite easily!  This should put a huge lid on the fire action.  So again, I think it’s unlikely we see a huge movement of the fire the next 3-5 days anywhere west of Bonneville.  Likely a slow movement.  Hopefully many of the evacuees will get to go home Wednesday based on that forecast.

AIR QUALITY:  It’s terrible over most of Western Oregon right now.  In fact AQI is up around 200 at PDX.

Increasing westerly wind late tonight and especially Wednesday should gradually clear things out.  I expect us to be in the GOOD category in western Oregon by late tomorrow evening.

On a more personal note, I left during the 10pm show in a hurry last night because MY home was in a Level 3 evacuation area southeast of Vista House.

Surreal is the overused cliché of course, but that’s exactly what was going on last night up in the Corbett area.  Typically at 11pm or so on the way home I might encounter a car or two…maybe.  Instead it was a steady stream of cars, trucks, motorhomes, & horse trailers driving around.  Meanwhile smoke was falling, the wind was blowing, and the temperature was hovering near 90 degrees at midnight in September!  Yet there was no panic, people were getting organized, gathering their belongings, and leaving.  There was no freak out at my home since no orange glow could be seen in any direction and I don’t live in the “east wind zone”.  I would have moved much faster if I would have seen flames!   We stayed with family in Troutdale last night.  Chickens, ducks, & cats are just fine and of course the fire never made it to my home.  Apparently it was within a half mile though.  Luckily the wind has now switched and I’m confident (as mentioned above) the immediate threat has passed.  Close call!  It sure is interesting that I wasn’t worried about “my stuff”.  The legal documents, private info, old pictures, and people/animals are really all that matter in a situation like that.  With insurance all the rest is replaceable.

One MORE note…

I know it’s a bit early, but I see headlines already showing up along the lines of “THE GORGE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME”.  I think that’s too dramatic.  How many of you knew a similar (but smaller) fire churned between Multnomah Falls and Angel’s Rest 26 years ago this month?  You can’t even see the effects now except for a few silver (burned & dead) trees sticking out.  Two things will happen  1) Most likely there will be unburned green trees mixed in with burned trees & 2)  This is a rain forest, so next spring the ground cover and lowest shrubs will be green again surrounded by silvery/burned trunks of dead trees.  Then new Douglas Firs will sprout and within 10 years they could be 15-20 feet tall!  Nature heals quickly in a wet place.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen




51 Responses to Tuesday Gorge Fire Update; Much Better Conditions Ahead

  1. Yes, that day, the air was filled with acrid smoke from the fire. My friend spent many nights lying in bed, thinking of the fire scene.

  2. Jason Hougak says:

    Family friends of our lost their house in Dodson, Oregon just 2 miles west of Bonneville Dam. Very sad situation. The 15 year old who started the fire should be treated as an adult. At the time he may not have thought a smoke bomb could start a forest fire but lighting anything in this tinderbox could result in a fire. He needs to learn the hard way and set an example to others. Too many of the wildfires blazing are human caused. Cannot even comprehend how much money will be spent this year fighting fires.

  3. Jason Hougak says:

    I believe we all try to be optimistic about the Eagle Creek Fire but the intensity and pictures show a different story. It will be a very dangerous place this upcoming winter.

  4. Nahtalkin says:

    “Excrement happens” when you have overpopulation, a dysfunctional society breeding children that have no respect for nature or the consequences of their actions. I would venture a guess that we will continue to see even more of these attacks on our natural resources someday to become the detritus of a past civilization.

  5. Paul D says:

    Tried to rain for a minute in Hillsboro, and our air quality took a huge drop from 153 to 128. We need another sprinkle, but not so brief!

  6. Have you considered interviewing foresters or forest scientists at OSU? These forests are designed to burn and fire suppression leads to very thick fuels, causing the burns to be less frequent and more severe. If we were managing these forests with thinning and cool burns, these fires would be less severe and easier to control.

    Also – given there is fire where there are people – perhaps the agencies ought to close forests when the fire danger is severe. It would probably be unenforceable but at least it would be an attempt to reduce the numbers of people in the woods during peak fire danger and it would raise general awareness of the high risks involved.

    • One of the biggest wrinkles is that the stuff that needs to come out (brush and smaller trees) is precisely the stuff with the least value. So it ends up costing money to do restoration logging.

      If someone could come up with a profitable use for all that brush and scrawny trees, it would be a major boon for our forests.

  7. Ryan Lutes says:

    I spent a lot of time in the Multnomah Fall area in 93′ and had no idea there had been a fire 18 months prior? So I think you are right about the shorter recovery time. I have hope. 🙂

  8. JERAT416 says:

    Ash is very lightly falling again here in Parkrose. Also the smell of smoke is stronger like yesterday. I don’t remember that being in the forecast. Why the shift now when west wind is on the way and the east wind is gone?

  9. Kelsey A Yauney says:

    Thank you Mark! I appreciate your knowledge and positive outlook.

  10. j2m says:

    This viewer shows the Eagle Creek/Indian Creek fire’s extent.


    Note: Zoom in till you can see Cascade Locks on the east edge and Corbett on the west edge. You should have distance scale of 3mi on the lower right next to USGS, then click on Data Layers and check all five boxes under Active Fires. That shows all the current and past areas that have burned or are active.

  11. Sara says:

    Thanks for your positive attitude 💕🌲 your post has made me feel a lot better.

  12. JohnD says:

    Such great-heartfelt commentary Mark. As always.

  13. Alohabb says:

    It really appears the smoke is worse today in Portland!

    • Paul D says:

      I thought we were going to clear up by now. It’s still in the unhealthy category in Hillsboro.

      • JERAT416 says:

        The east wind was supposed to end today which it did. Then a west wind is supposed to begin this afternoon. It will take some time to clear. At least there is no more ash falling in the metro area today. Still an improvement. Visibility is improved here in Parkrose but the sun is still quite weak.

    • Paul D says:

      The air quality alert got extended from yesterday – it’s now in effect through 12pm Friday. Yuck!

    • Aleta-West Gresham says:

      There was ash falling in Hillsboro about an hour ago next to the airport. Coming east on 26, the smoke just got thicker and thicker. No ash in Beaverton though. (At least where I’m at)

  14. JJ78259 says:

    I can still remember the 1933 Tillimook Burn reminents driving to the coast in the early 60s when I was a kid. Took a while for that forest to come back. I was up in the Gorge this past June during the last week of rain you had! Got a lot of pictures of the forest around the falls! I am glad we went up there to visit before we headed back to Texas it won’t look like that for some time.

    • JJ78259 says:

      In reading about the Tillimook Burn over 1 million tree seedlings were planted between 1949 and 1973 wow!

    • JJ78259 says:

      Tillimook Burn was 350,000 acres so it was a lot bigger than the 31,000 acres we have now. In reading about what caused the big fire was an east wind event and very low humidity really got it going. Funny no mention of Global Warming in any of the articles.

    • JJ78259 says:

      Just looking a the 14 member family lunch photo we had at the Multnomah Falls Lodge Restuarant all those trees in the back ground! Wow really glad we visited before the fire!

  15. The Farmers Wife says:

    The best coverage of updated information and perspective so far ! Thank you Mike ! Prayers continue for you all ! We had friends who had yo evacuate from Corbett.

  16. […] Mark Nelsen posted an encouraging update earlier […]

  17. My regret is never extensively hiking the areas that were burned. I’ve been on a few day hikes in the Gorge, and visited sites such as Oneonta Gorge, the tunnel, and Multnomah Falls, but have never really ventured into the heart of the Gorge.

    Well, at least I (hopefully) get to live for another 60 years or so, so I’ll see the area fully regenerate. I can see why this is such a bummer for some of you folks past 50.

  18. Marques. says:

    This is just a travesty.. so heart-breaking.. the few times I went hiking up to Punchbowl Falls with good friends is wiped out… smh.. just awful.

  19. Linda Luiten says:

    Thank you people with fireworks. I hope it was worth it!

    • Paul D says:

      Whoever is responsible for this should have to meet the person who has lost their house and help clean up the mess.

  20. Absolutely horrifying, considering how close it actually got to Mark’s place.

    And I agree that the “temperate rainforest” of the western Gorge will probably recover nicely over the next few years. Far more concerning is how long-term climate change will affect this particular ecosystem. Does it become drier-looking like the Willamette Valley, or do plants from the (slightly) warmer regions of SW Oregon/NW California colonize this region instead?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the good news and calm perspective! Oregon will be green again.

  22. oldwxwatcher says:

    What I’m wondering is what will happen after the rainy season gets going in earnest. Parts of trails often get closed due to mudslides/landslides during normal conditions. What will happen with all that denuded landscape this coming winter? As Mark said, the area may well recover sooner than many people believe. But the coming few months could be rough.

    • Jason Hougak says:

      The Eagle Creek Trail will be closed for years. Highway 224 was closed 6 months after the Pit 36 fire and even this summer rock still spills onto the road. The Eagle Creek Trail is hazardous and exposed in places. I’ve backpacked it and hiked it a lot. Cliff jumping into Punch Bowl Falls was a favorite summer activity up there. If it’s burned bad enough then the large standing timber will become the most problematic as they fall. I’m sure they will loosen a lot of ground causing rock fall and hazards. I backpacked the Bull of the Woods during the Eclipse and the fires there have made the trails in sections a nightmare. Choked with 8 foot tall fireweed and fallen 5′ Douglas Fir trees for miles. The trail in steep sections were a scramble as the trail no longer existed buried under stacks of fallen logs. The Eagle Creek Canyon is very exposed and hazardous. Just the loose rock and cliffs cause dangers in and of themselves. Now add a forest fire and it’s safe to say the Forest Service will close it down til it’s deemed safe, which could take years and trail reconstruction. Definitely a sad story for a magnificent trail.

  23. Jason Hougak says:

    Dublin Lake has probably been torched too

  24. High Desert Mat says:

    Glad the family and the chickens made it Mark!!

  25. Jimmy Mack says:

    Thanks for the update and positive words Mark. It’s been so somber around here for days that your glimmer of optimism has lifted my spirits a bit.

  26. So glad you and your family are ok and that your place is ok. Thought about you all day today hoping things would be good.

  27. Chuck Boman says:

    Mark you don’t know me but I was a part of the fire department in the fire many years ago. I appreciate your view that it will return. Ted DAVENPORT & I used to ride his houseboat on the river & look at the spots that had burned until one day you couldn’t really see them.

  28. Eastside says:

    We are so grateful your homestead is ok! Check out these pictures from my office. One, a “normal” day in Portland. The other is today:

  29. Jake-(Gresham near Nadaka Nature Park) says:

    Mark, glad your family is safe and I very much hope populated areas have seen the end of this.

    Went to grab the mail and met the mailman at the box. Told her I was glad to see her wearing an air pollution mask and that right now we have worse air quality than Los Angeles, Beijing and Hong Kong, combined. Put that on air Mark. People need to know this air quality can cause health issues!

    We both scurried in our respective directions after that. My driveway is building up ash around the water hosing and cement crevices. What the freak’.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Mark, you mentioned on air that we have as bad air quality as HongKong or Beijing. So I checked it out from curiosity. We actually have as bad air quality as both combined with the addition of Los Angeles. Darn kids. My backyard is essentially gone.



    Los Angeles:

    Current AQI over Portland (for those curious):

  31. Jason Hougak says:

    Put a sprinkler on the roof Mark and pump that well!!!

  32. I’m 65 Mark, most likely I will never see it again the way it was in my life time.

  33. Mike says:

    I don’t mean to contradict a forecast by Mark Nelson, but All I can see is Heat low forming/ developing off California and moving northward. Doesn’t that mean dry east winds and typical blockage of moist marine air?

    Just a guy worried about the fire we are all so closely following.

    • Jason Hougak says:

      I agree
      The Eagle Creek Canyon is very rugged and a beautiful trail in and of itself. The terrain features with majestic waterfalls and towering old growth made it a special place that you hoped would last a lifetime. We unfortunately that lifetime has pasted due to some individuals set it ablaze. It will not be the same guaranteed. With the loss of trees to support the terrain it’s going to be closed by the Forest Service I’m sure for quite awhile for safety and trail reconstruction. I’m sure high bridge may need to be rebuilt which spans the narrow gorge 90′ above the creek bottom. The Clackamas River Hwy has frequent rock falls due to the Pit 36 which burned and destabilized the hillside. This summer wreaked havoc on our forest land and historic buildings. All these long hot dry summers and dry short winters are causing the problems. We need cold wet winters and summers that bring some precipitation. For one thing we don’t need people setting fires. Enough of those are naturally caused by lightning which we have no control over.

    • Mark Nelsen says:

      That would be early next week, but it’s not on all models. That’s after many days of westerly wind

  34. anuheaikauatuahine says:

    Thank you so much, Mark. I really appreciate all your updates, and I’m glad you and your family are safe.

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