Real Stories from the Columbia River Gorge Wildfires

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. – Wendell Berry

 

Approximately 2 million people visit the 292,500 acres that make up the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area each year.

I live on the edge of the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge, but the heart of this incredible creation is truly my second home.

Every Labor Day is pretty much the same. My family migrates to the Columbia River Gorge for a weekend away from, well life, to indulge in our last days of the lazy summer. We stay at our cabin, which has no electricity, no phone service — just the peace of the trees and creeks that surround us. We go on walks, hang out in the creek, eat amazing food, and roast s’mores by the fireside. We’ve been doing so for generations and have built life-long friendships with the people who also visit here, as well as the community.

There was only one specific Labor Day weekend that I vividly remember, which was when our friends, who arrived to the cabin a day later, announced that Princess Diana had passed away in a tragic car accident.

Shockingly, exactly 20 years later, I have a new tragic memory of my Labor Day weekend. Driving back into town on Saturday, about 5 o’clock in the afternoon for some ice and to take care of some business on my phone (I know, terrible — but, would you believe that I was actually making posts for Wind Mountain Ranch and Gorge-ous Weddings!), my mom and I were alarmed to see billowing smoke to the southwest. It was the most colorful and defined smoke cloud I have ever seen.

Something just wasn’t right. We looked it up right away to learn that it was, sure enough, the Eagle Creek Fire that has consumed our lives for the last several days.

We came back to the cabin to share our discovery of a large fire that had broken on the Oregon side and then the debate began, could a forest fire hop the river?

In between who was right and who was wrong, the kids were getting antsy for s’mores. But this year my Dad insisted it was just too dry to have a fire — which, mind you, would be in a contained fire pit. “Maybe tomorrow,” he told my disappointed seven-year-old.

Tomorrow came and still no good feelings about lighting a fire. Surely, it was much too warm to even need the added heat anyways. But, a campfire when you are in the woods — it just goes together like peas and carrots.

Well, the peas and carrots were just not meant to be this trip (we ended up improvising by roasting marshmallows on the propane stove top!).

By the time we made our way back through the Gorge on Monday afternoon, the fire was in full effect. Patches of flames were present, smoke was heavy, and everyone was pulling over in amazement, watching the crew at work. By that evening, the entire mountain side shined in hues of orange and red, putting a bright glow on the dark, hazy evening sky.

We woke the very next morning to hear that embers did float in the wind across the river, starting another fire on the Washington side. And it wasn’t too much later after that when we learned of two more fires in our beloved Gorge.

That day was hard. Reality settled in. The Eagle Creek Fire had doubled over night. We had friends and family on Level I and Level II Evacuations. Our yard and home were (and still are) covered with patches of ash an inch deep and burned leaves that have flown west. Our school recesses held indoors because of the air quality. Our soccer practices cancelled. Our views clogged with smoke.

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a lot of different places in my life and every time I return I remind myself, “Wow. There is really no place like home.” The beauty of the area is really like no other.

So, you can see why this week has brought me to tears on multiple occasions.¬†Hearing the stories and seeing the images. It was just too much — more than I have ever experienced.

I know the fire won’t reach our home. I know my family is safe. I know my friends are safe. I know there are a ton of brave men and women protecting me and you all day and all night.¬†I know this isn’t the end-all. But, what if?

What if we had to evacuate? What if our cabin burned down? What if the forest never grows back? These questions will make you crazy if you let them.

And then, like a bright shining light from above, Oregon Fire Marshall spokesman Damon Simmons said what we all needed to hear in a morning news conference. “The Gorge is not a wasteland,” he said, “The Gorge still looks like the Gorge.”

I, like so many others, needed to hear that. Yes, there is damage. Yes, this is a tragedy. But, oh did we need to hear that positivity from someone who was on the front line. We will overcome.

And after that, I started to notice a tone set forth across scoial media. In a world where the platform can portray a negative light on the human race, especially with modern politics. In the Pacific Northwest, social media was shedding light on the love of community and the dignity of humanity.

 

Nothing is more real than people sharing their feelings, their memories, their fears, and their hopes. Here are a few stunning posts from our Instagram feed:

Let these devastating tragedies be a reminder to us all that we cannot be careful enough on this earth. On average, more than 100,000 wildfires burn in the U.S. every year… 80-90% of which are started by humans.

Only you can prevent forest fires.

 

Tell us, how will you protect our cherished scenic home from wildfires?

 

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