ODOT shows dramatic wildfire damage in Gorge, work done to reope - KPTV - FOX 12

ODOT shows dramatic wildfire damage in Gorge, work done to reopen I-84

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The Oneonta Tunnel was destroyed by the Eagle Creek Fire. (KPTV) The Oneonta Tunnel was destroyed by the Eagle Creek Fire. (KPTV)
Some of the damage along the old historic highway from the Eagle Creek Fire. (KPTV) Some of the damage along the old historic highway from the Eagle Creek Fire. (KPTV)
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, OR (KPTV) -

After the longest closure in recent memory, the Oregon Department of Transportation told FOX 12 that eastbound I-84 should be reopened late this weekend or early next week.

It’s already been 17 days since the freeway was forced to close for the Eagle Creek Fire.

Thursday, contractors working for ODOT were still working to remove loose rocks and tree snags left behind by the fire near the Tooth Rock Tunnel, so they won’t fall onto I-84 below.

“These guys are doing some amazing work for sure, and it’s very difficult,” said Tom Braibish, a geotechnical engineer with ODOT. “It’s a high-angle rope access doing the kind of work that would even be hard to do on level ground.”

Determining which rocks and trees are hazardous is a complicated matter. It depends on where they are on the slope, the burn area and assessments from crews working on the ground.

The danger of falling debris is crystal clear in certain places along the Gorge.

Not far from where the contractors worked Thursday, a hole was punched through a stone wall along the Historic Columbia River Highway during the fire thanks to a falling tree. Not far away, a metal guardrail was peeled back into twisted pieces.

In some places, smoke was still seen coming out of the ground Thursday – nearly three weeks after the fire started.

“Trees are burned all the way up the canyon, there’s material you can see that’s slid down on the side, so again that’s what I’m concerned about,” said Stephen Hay, an engineering geologist with ODOT.

Hay just flew over the Gorge on Wednesday to get an initial assessment of the danger, and plans to fly again Monday for a better look.

He’s concerned about the possibility for landslides along drainage areas from roughly Crown Point on the west to Shell Rock Mountain on the eastern edge of the fire line.

On Thursday’s tour, FOX 12 was able to see what’s left of the Oneonta Tunnel along the Historic Columbia River Highway. The structure, made of reinforced concrete and timber, didn’t survive the blaze.

Now, ODOT is working with federal partners to try and find the money to fix it. So far, there is no timeline for that work.

Not far away, the popular hiking spot at Oneonta Gorge leading back to a stunning waterfall also burned.

While it may be possible for people to still access the falls in the future, it may not be safe with the burned hillsides and downed trees in the water.

“What we’ve learned about Oneonta Gorge is that people always want to find a way, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” said Rachel Pawlitz with the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s a legal closure in effect, if anyone’s in here they could get cited.”

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