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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Eagle Creek Fire Jumps Over the Columbia: Childless Adults Even More Thankful to be Childless.

The Columbia River Gorge 09/05/2017 at 3:00am (As viewed from the Cape Horn Viewpoint on SR 14. Phoca Rock visible in middle of river.)

The Columbia River Gorge 05/31/2010 (from Cape Horn Viewpoint)

I've aligned these images based on the positions of Phoca Rock and the navigational structure in the middle of the river to estimate what areas are burning.

When I arrived at the viewpoint, it seemed I had missed the explosive advance of the fire's front. Still, as the wind gusted, and photographers scrambled to secure their tripods, one or another tree or other combustible item would explode like a solar flare.

The smoke stung my eyes. The buffeting breeze reminded me of speeding through central Oregon on a 104 degree day with the windows down.

Whenever the breeze lagged, voluminous, billowing smoke would hang briefly, as if in collusion with the ravenous flames, attempting to cover their sins of gluttony.

Starting around 4:00am, I started receiving emails indicating that the fire had jumped the Columbia and set Archer Mountain aflame. The photographer next to me pointed out an ominous glow to the East.

I drove to the St. Cloud recreation area and caught site of the flames — ever expanding.

 Looking South to the Oregon side of the gorge from St. Cloud recreation area.
Another view of Archer Mountain from a vantage point at Skamania Landing.

Looking South from Skamania Landing. Here, having exhausted its orgy options, the fire begins a more refined winnowing process.

At dawn, the fire is still occupied with Archer Mountain (from a viewpoint at Shahala Lake).

I had hoped to catalog the landmarks affected by the fire in the daylight, but smoke from the fire proved to be too thick, obscuring even the sun hours after dawn.

The blanket of smoke continues to obscure the sky at 9:00am (as viewed from Rocky Butte)

Editor's Note (09/07/17):
Thank you for your comments (here, and on Facebook). I find them fascinating.

Let me re-assure some of you, particularly my mother, that my self-preservation instincts are fairly well refined. I am keen to avoid burning, blunt force trauma, falling great lengths, suffocation, drowning and drunken drivers — for starters. But thanks for the reminders.

The wildfire in the gorge is frightening. It is like an uncaged wild thing, or like a malevolent genie unwittingly released from its lamp. It feeds with evident cunning, and takes what it can with absolutely no empathy. With the capriciousness of a tornado, it obliterates some locations, while leaping over others and leaving them nearly unscathed. Lives and the works of lifetimes hang in jeopardy.

I do not take lightly the terrible consequences of this fire, but I do want to briefly address the recurring theme of sadness at the loss of so much beauty in the gorge, by suggesting that the very beauty we have grown up with is itself a product of volcanic ‘disasters, geography altering super floods, tectonic plate level seismic events and countless fires through the eons. 

Living in a scenic area where we have found it necessary to fence off our waterfalls and pave our wilderness trails, it is easy to believe that our Gorge is a permanent unchanging feature, bereft of natural cycles. But I suspect this is an illusion fostered by our short lifespans. 

Born from the stars, life has always contended with fire. Indeed, some life intimately depends on it. New niches will open, and various specialized plants and animals are just waiting to move in and make the world new again. And we humans, I suppose, will continue to risk building our houses near flood plains, or deep in the new forests of the future, because … it’s always going to be pretty.


  1. Really scary. Hope that was a very long lens you were using....

  2. Your comments are appreciated and equally emotional. Yes, reminded that the very Gorge landscape we love is a result of constant evolution and change. The metaphor is plain as the ash on my porch.

  3. Beautifully written, and amazing photography to go with it! Normally in the past, this is the sort of thing I would have been doing that night as well, but instead I was busy packing and moving this time and get to enjoy such words as you have written. Well done!

  4. Having done the John Day fossil loop twice this summer with grandkids this bit about how the area was born from total disaster really "fits". It may take a long time, but nothing on this earth is forever and change is always happening. God IS and all is well no matter how bleak things may appear in any given moment.

  5. Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comment. Having paddled down the John Day River a time or two myself, I appreciate your understanding of geologic time and I think I appreciate your understanding of change from a planetary perspective — or perhaps even from an infinite God’s perspective. I am also trying to appreciate the surety of your faith and hope that it provides some comfort for you (at least). But I have to say, also, that I am in no way convinced that ‘all is well.’

    Your comment makes me wonder if my own ponderings may not appear naive to the family staring at the charred foundations of their house. After-all, my risk in this episode of destruction is mostly second-hand — I have friends who have houses a t risk. The worst thing that will probably happen to me is that some of my leisure-time scenery is changing.

    I admit It was my intent to find some positive thing to look forward too — some hope, some way to mitigate the damage, but with the fire uncontained, maybe it is too soon and maybe I’m not the one to be saying it.

    You have reminded me how my community of faith once re-assured me that my father’s cancer was all a part of God’s good plan. That was almost 40 years ago (When dad died). Since then I’ve tried to practice faith and give God the benefit of a doubt. But my gut instinct remains. I don’t feel as if it was a very good plan.

    I guess the thing I want to figure out now, is what can I do to make it ‘well’ again.

  6. She will heal can not fix....he only does more damage........keep folks out for a few years and watch the pheonix rise again

  7. You can not make it well only does more damage when he tries to "fix" the Mother. If they simply keep the public out for a few years, you will slowly watch the phoenix rise.

  8. Crowdancer5,

    If your metaphor is chosen carefully, if it is our ‘mother’ who has been ‘hurt’ or ‘damaged’, then we children, it would seem, are obligated to minimize our impact and work to ensure our mother’s health. I don’t think we can escape our role. We are truly children of this Earth. Our problem I suppose is we are still babies, thinking mostly of ways to gratify our immediate urges, or worse, arrogant teens thinking we know more than our parents.

    We have information and data available to us that we didn’t have when we came through here before, damming up the rivers and clear cutting the forests. We have better ideas about how to minimize the impact of our encroaching cities, roads and parking lots. I think there is much we can do and ought to do, from strategic replanting, to erosion control, to ideas about sustainable living.

    Mom is beautiful and all, but she’s been known to go overboard with the discipline. The thing is, if we children don’t start behaving, Mom’s going to kill us.



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