EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The Chetco Bar Fire is now burning more than 175,000 acres in the mountains near the coastal Oregon town of Brookings. The good news is that a break in the weather fueled by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lidia should give fire crews a chance to catch up.

Southwest Oregon has seen months of high temperatures and little-to-no rain, creating ripe conditions for fire starts. One of the ways fire managers determine how fire-prone an area is, is a measure called the energy release component, or ERC. 

When the Eagle Creek Fire blew up over Labor Day weekend, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said officials used every available resource to fight it.

The fire quickly doubled in size, and evacuation orders soon followed. People forced to leave the Columbia River Gorge city of Cascade Locks questioned the speed of the initial fire response.

Gov. Brown disagreed with the suggestion that firefighters were slow to react to the fast-growing blaze in the Gorge.

"Absolutely not," Brown responded. "We put all the resources we had on the fire, as quickly as possible."

Washington state’s guidelines for fish farms include things like where they should be located and how many fish can be farmed in how much water. These guidelines are more than three decades old: they date back to 1986.

“We know that the old recommendations are out of date,” says Department of Ecology spokesperson Curt Hart.

Wildfires have consumed more than a half-million acres in Oregon so far this year. That number includes blazes on both public and privately-owned land. According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, roughly 528,000 acres have burned so far, with more than a dozen uncontained wildfires still active in Oregon.

Ron Graham is the Deputy Chief of the Fire Protection Division of the Oregon Department of Forestry. He says that number will likely grow, because it could be several more weeks until wildfires subside in a meaningful way.

As flames from the Eagle Creek Fire pushed closer to the Columbia River, Oregon officials had a quick decision to make.

The Fish and Wildlife hatcheries in the fire’s path housed six million fish, mostly chinook and coho salmon and steelhead.

And some of those fish were in trouble.

“Their water source, which at the time was Tanner Creek at Bonneville Hatchery, was literally engulfed in flames. The hatchery intake on the creek got clogged up, and we weren’t able to get water to the fish,” said Ken Loffink, a spokesman for ODFW.

UPDATE (6:56 p.m. PST): The human-caused Eagle Creek Fire — which exploded in growth Monday evening and jumped the Columbia River to ignite a Washington fire early Tuesday — slowed its movement westward early Wednesday as winds shifted, leaving it a few miles east of Crown Point.

A Portland woman says the young hikers suspected of starting a fire now consuming the Columbia River Gorge giggled as one threw a firecracker into Eagle Creek Canyon.

One suspect has been identified as a 15-year-old male from Vancouver, Washington. Oregon State Police spokesman Bill Fugate said if charged, the suspect could face the same state charges as an adult. Fugate said OSP will release the suspect's name if and when charges are filed. It is believed he and others may have been using fireworks which started the forest fire along the Eagle Creek Trail. 

UPDATED (10:55 a.m. PST): The Eagle Creek Fire jumped the Columbia River Gorge overnight, sparking a smaller fire on the Washington side of the river Tuesday morning according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office.

 Cascade Locks remained eerily quiet Monday morning.

No gas. No food. Businesses along the main drag were either closed or forced to evacuate.

The perpetual scent of fire, the sun's rays muted by smoke, and the occasional drizzle of ash greeted visitors to the town as the Eagle Creek Fire continued to burn about a mile away, threatening hundreds of homes and other structures.

As of Monday morning, the human-caused wildfire was about 3,200 acres, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. That marks a small increase from what officials reported Sunday.  

Advocates are worried that Trump administration policy changes will damage the ability of national parks to deal with climate change.

Studies show climate change could have serious impacts on national parks in the Northwest.

The Bumblebee Hunter

Sep 3, 2017

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The National Weather Service says last month was the hottest August on record for Portland and Salem.

Even the coast experienced warmer-than-normal temperatures. Astoria experienced its third hottest August on record.

And summer isn't over yet. Hot temperatures are expected to spill into September as well; meteorologists say it's hard to predict when the heat will let up.

"It's just a big warm air mass over the area with not a lot of change in the weather pattern," said Treena Jensen, a senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

A disease that can be deadly to deer has been found for the first time in Washington. Wildlife managers are asking people to not give deer food or water — in hopes of minimizing the spread of the infection.

Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease — or AHD — is common in other western states. Washington’s first confirmed case was found in a herd east of Goldendale.

The disease is often fatal for fawns. It’s not a risk to people, pets, or livestock — it’s only transmitted from deer-to-deer.

Cooke Aquaculture and state officials knew at least six months ago that the floating salmon farm that collapsed in August was "nearing the end of serviceable life," with accelerating corrosion eating away at its hinges and steel structure.

Even so, they agreed to fill the damaged structure with a full load of 3.1 million pounds of Atlantic salmon in an area regularly swept by strong currents.

Cycle Oregon has been canceled this year, just over a week before the ride was scheduled to start.

Wildfires and smoke in Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley raised safety concerns for event organizers. While Cycle Oregon originally planned on rerouting this year’s ride, alternate routes were also deemed unsafe.

Is That Mask Really Protecting You From The Smoke?

Aug 31, 2017

The persistent haze of smoke from the wildfires burning around the Northwest has led many people to wear face masks to protect their lungs. But health officials say many of those masks aren’t doing what the wearers think they are.

As the days of thick, smoky air drag on, you’re seeing more people wearing those little paper masks you can get at the hardware store. Dr. Jim Shames has seen them, too. But, he says, while those masks may filter out some of the ash that’s floating around people need more protection than that.

Air quality in the Portland metro area was rated by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as unhealthy Tuesday. Areas near Grants Pass and Medford also had substantial haze from nearby wildfires.

Smoke from large fires burning in southwestern Oregon and northern California is blowing north and blanketing the Willamette Valley. This includes smoke from megafires such as the Chetco Bar Fire — burning over 100,000 acres near Brookings, Oregon — and the Miller Complex of fires.  

It's been a busy August for the Oregon National Guard.

More than 600 guard members have been called up to fight wildfires burning out of control in the state. They've dropped more than 750,000 gallons of water on the fires by helicopter.

Even as the firefighting continues, two small teams with the Oregon Air National Guard's 125th Special Tactics Squadron are being sent on a very different mission: assisting the relief effort in Texas.

The Chetco Bar Fire in southwest Oregon has been burning since July. It's now scorched about 118-,000 acres and it’s still completely uncontained. Last week it was designated the nation’s top priority wildfire.

The megafire is still burning just five miles outside the coastal city of Brookings. OPB/EarthFix reporter Jes Burns is on the scene asking questions and getting answers.

What’s The Status This Afternoon Of Both The Fire And The Evacuations It’s Caused?

Hot, dry weather Sunday on the southern Oregon coast made it difficult for fire crews to stop the spread of the Chetco Bar Fire. Fire crews were refocused to keep it from creeping closer to coastal communities.

Residents of the coastal town of Brookings have been dealing with smoke and evacuation warnings for weeks now. Hundreds of them gathered Sunday evening at Brookings-Harbor High School to learn the latest on the fire burning just a few miles from town.

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