Badly burned soil from Eagle Creek Fire creates potential hazard - KPTV - FOX 12

Badly burned soil from Eagle Creek Fire creates potential hazards in Gorge

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A tour showed some of the hardest hit areas of the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge.

FOX 12 crews got an up-close look at the cherished Oneonta Gorge, more than a month after it was scorched by the Eagle Creek Fire.

The Burned Area Emergency Response, or BAER, team is finishing up its assessment of the fire.

As of Friday, the fire sits at 48,800 acres while containment remains at 47 percent, and the BAER team found that 15 percent of the fire area saw a high burn severity.

Charred stumps, blackened trees and the smell of smoke still lingers near the trail. It’s a new and heartbreaking view of the popular Oneonta Gorge.

Many who’ve visited and hiked Oneonta remember the iconic logjam on the trail. Now, crews say those logs are charred.

“You can kind of see they’re still there, but I think they did burn to some extent,” Ryan Cole, a geologist with the BAER team, said.

It’s easy to spot the damage near Oneonta. The Oneonta Gorge Tunnel was clearly damaged and scorched after flames from the Eagle Creek fire filled the iconic tunnel that was opened in 1914.

“Now we’ve burned off all that vegetation, and all the rock on the slopes is at an angle that it can’t naturally hold,” Cole explained. 

Geologists, archeologists and soil scientists with on BAER team all met at Oneonta on Friday to discuss the new hazards in the Gorge and near the trail. One main concern, they said, is falling rocks.

“Our team, we had several members when they were out doing field work, one was at Horsetail Falls, we had several members evaluating the safety situation,” BAER team leader Liz Schnackenberg said. “In the span of about 20 minutes, they heard 20 rocks come over the waterfall. It was a dry, sunny day and rocks were just moving. That’s not normal.”

“You could ask ODOT when they will stop seeing rock fall, their answer will be never,” Cole added. “It’s something that’s continually happening.”

Heavy debris flow is another major concern.

“That can back up water and catastrophically fail later in time, sending a torrent of flood water down,” Cole noted.

While time will tell just how extensive the damage from the wildfire will be, the team said the rains of this winter will be the ultimate test.

Crews also said many people want to know how they can help the Gorge. Members of the BAER team told FOX 12 the best thing visitors can do right now is to respect the Gorge and stay away because it’s just not safe.

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