As the orange sun rose into the hazy grey sky on the first day of school, the seniors had a Senior Sunrise unlike any other due to the Eagle Creek Fire that still raged on in the Gorge.
Starting at around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 2, the Eagle Creek Fire is 50,000 acres large and continuing to grow. The estimated date of containment is Sept. 30. Although there have been a few other fires across Oregon, the Eagle Creek Fire is the biggest in the last 5 years, affecting communities such as Cascade Locks, Warrendale, Dodson, and the area around Larch Mountain. Hundreds have been evacuated and many more put on evacuation alert. As the fire rages on, thousands of acres have been decimated by the blaze and the gorge will never look the same.
The Hood River County Sheriff put an evacuation order in place to the surrounding area. All residents South of Interstate 84 were put on Level 3 evacuation notice, meaning pack up and go. People on the North side of the Interstate were given a Level 2 evacuation notice, meaning be set to leave if announced. By this point, the fire had already expanded to 3,000 acres in the surrounding area.
The fire began when a group of teenagers playing with fireworks set off a fire in the dry gorge. After realizing they had started the fire, they panicked and immediately contacted the Fire Department.
The Eagle Creek Fire and another fire nearby, the Indian Creek, merged with each other on Sept. 5. Multnomah Falls Lodge was able to be saved by the firefighters. I-84 remained closed from Troutdale to Hood River because of the ash and trees on the road, but it was a good day overall for the firefighter as they managed to keep the fire contained more than the first few days.
The rate of its spreading has slowed down drastically after this point due to the firefighters and the investigation continues on the teens that started the fire.
Due to its huge size, there has had to be hundreds of firefighters and forest service officers to help fight the fire. Unfortunately, it’s not expected to be contained until Saturday, September 30, and it’s unknown when people can return to their homes. Hikers might have to wait until next spring until they can return to the gorge to hike.
Since the Eagle Creek Fire began on Sept. 2, it has been covered by both local and national news. News outlets including KATU, Oregon Live and KGW-TV have been posting live updates on the fire, which many residents of the area have been following closely. On September 7, “The New Yorker” published an article titled, “Oregon’s Eagle Creek Fire and the New Reality of Life in the Smoke Filled West,” in “which the effects on residents near the fire were discussed.”
But the media’s coverage on the fire has done more than just inform the public on what is going on. Constant coverage over the fire has led many to worry about smoke inhalation, air quality, and safety outdoors. Many athletic events and outdoor practices have been cancelled due to how extreme the fire is and how quickly it is spreading.
People Directly Impacted
Tigard High Seminary Secretary Diana Belcher is someone who’s town reached a level one evacuation, out of four progressional evacuation levels. This means that she had to begin getting things in order in case the fire drew any closer. “Earlier in the week, it was just an orangish-brown color, really thick, and a lot of ash coming down. Big chunks, not just little teeny ones,” Belcher explained. She lives in a rural area, much closer to the gorge than Tigard. Luckily, she didn’t have to evacuate, but she knew others who did. “A lot of people who were at least at a level three evacuation had to get their animals out, because of the area they lived in. Truck and trailer after truck and trailer after truck and trailer,” Belcher said. Belcher and her family were able to help some of the evacuees by opening up their barn for some of the animals that needed to be evacuated.
Belcher may not have had to leave, but that does not mean that she, like many others, did not have to feel the effects of the fire. “I found that I could not wear my contacts at all, because [the smoke] was so strong. My contacts would just dry out and they felt scratchy, Belcher said “I’m still dealing with congestion in my chest and nose, even though the smoke has cleared up a bit.” The smoke became a nuisance for the people in her area, even at a level one evacuation warning.
Social Media Response
Throughout the disaster, social media proved efficient in spreading important information to the public. For example, KGW News used Twitter as a platform to share information about the locations of Red Cross shelters.
The advancement of technology has made it easier for people to stay updated on the status of the fire and the people affected. During the initial hours of the fire when hikers were trapped on the trail, Mountain Wave Emergency Communications used their accounts to send out alerts that rescue teams were going to meet hikers close to the fires with food, water, and safety supplies.
Users also took the time to share their thoughts and emotions about the situation. Some mourned the loss of their favorite trails while others took time to praise the heroes tirelessly fighting the heat and flames. Many posted pictures of the firefighters in the gorge, showering them with praise and thanks, some images showing them nearly passed out with exhaustion. Social media can make us more aware of daily heroes, allowing us to keep some optimism throughout the devastation. “We want to say thx to the fire crews on the line fighting this. It’s great to see a little green in the gorge this morning.” tweeted Multnomah County SAR (@MCSOSAR), including a photo of twenty-six firefighters in front of Multnomah Falls.
On the flip side, social media shows no mercy in condemning the “villains” of each situation. The unnamed teenager who started the gorge fire has received harsh criticism for his choice to throw fireworks into the dry gorge. Some users went as far as calling him a rat, and many others have since jumped on the bandwagon. Whether he deserves the virtual mobs or not is all up to opinion.
Tigard’s Earth and Space teacher Mark Strand, believes that climate change is at least partially to blame for the the Eagle Creek fire, and other fires spreading throughout the northwest. When asked for his opinion on the reality of climate change, “It’s pretty straightforward, look around. You look at the fire seasons we’ve been having, the number of 90 degree days we have; this year is number two and two years ago we set the all-time record,” Strand said. Strand grew up outside of East County near the Gorge, and called this year’s fire season “disheartening.”
Effect on TTSD
The entire TTSD community has been affected by the fires and smoke this past week. The town was flooded with smoke for days at end which made it dangerous to breathe and difficult to see. Having medical issues, such as asthma, caused caution in the community.
The Athletic Department at Tigard was strongly impacted by the smoke that hit Tigard following the Eagle Creek Fire. According to OSAA, no athletes are allowed outside for practice or games when the air quality is over 150 on the DEQ’s Air Quality Index. Between 100-150 is unhealthy for sensitive people, like those with asthma, while air quality between 150-200 is considered unhealthy for all individuals. Tigard’s peak was on Tuesday with a rating of 160. All outside sports, such as football and soccer, had to have indoor practice for the three days that Tigard was smothered by smoke and ash. “That was a mess is what that was!” Athletic Director Alan Boschma said about the whole situation. With all of the sports forced to gather inside, it caused there to be very little room leading some practices sharing gym space with different schools like Tualatin High. One of the girls’ soccer games had to be rescheduled to make up for a missed game with Wilsonville as well as freshman football not being able to play because Skyview High School, in Vancouver, couldn’t get a bus to travel down to Tigard.
The smoke may have cleared here in Tigard but it’s still affecting us in the same ways. Another girls varsity soccer game against McMinnville High School was cancelled on Saturday since the smoke was still smothering McMinnville and other towns and cities in Oregon.
As the rain begins to come back to Oregon, the effects of the fire may start to diminish in Tigard, and communities throughout the gorge see some relief.