Seven weeks later: Multnomah Falls Lodge employees visit iconic - KPTV - FOX 12

Seven weeks later: Multnomah Falls Lodge employees visit iconic spot, still out of work following fire

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COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, OR (KPTV) -

Nearly two months after the Eagle Creek Fire almost destroyed the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, employees of the restaurant returned for a closer glimpse of the falls and to talk about how the ongoing closure is affecting them.

Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Transportation took about a dozen employees and FOX 12 on the brief tour Monday morning, as restoration crews continued work to prepare the lodge for reopening.

“It’s sad because I’m not here for work and I’m not here every day,” employee Danielle Berry said of the visit. “But it’s good, because you see pictures, and it’s not the same. Being here now, it’s beautiful.”

A fence blocks the path leading to the iconic bridge below the falls, but employees got as close as they could, taking photographs and hugging.

Several of the workers said they are receiving unemployment benefits, but the checks are not close to their normal wages and tips. Subsequently, some have deferred car payments, delayed paying rent and even applied for food stamps.

“It’s stressful, it’s hard and I just want to come back to work,” employee Kassey Taylor said.  “I miss it.”

The group describes itself as more of a family, and manager Heidi Westerhuis said the opportunity to get together makes them feel a little bit better.

“They are all very antsy,” Westerhuis said. “I think everybody’s kind of stressed financially and we all just miss each other.”

With more time on her hands, Westerhuis is spending more time on her hobbies.

“I’ve had more time to be crafty. I’ve been making myself some jewelry and some stuff and I’m going to try to sell it,” she said.

Employees also spoke about the 15-year-old Vancouver teen accused of setting the fire. The Hood River District Attorney charged the teen with several crimes in juvenile court, including reckless burning and criminal mischief.

Oregon State Police started investigating the teen after witnesses said the boy, surrounded by friends, started the fire by throwing fireworks into the dry brush off the Eagle Creek Trail.

“I’m not angry at him,” Taylor said. “I have a 14-year-old who obviously doesn’t always make the best choices. He (the teen suspect) just needs to be held accountable for his actions.”

FOX 12 also toured the inside of the Multnomah Falls Lodge, where crews Monday morning were using a motorized lift to deep-clean the ceiling.

The lodge suffered smoke damage as the flames came just feet away from the building. Firefighters were amazingly able to save it. In the dining room, a hint of smoke remains in the air.

“With some materials, it just means doing an ozone treatment,” restaurant co-owner Jill Buck explained. “In other areas, it might be cleaning or replacing carpet, painting all of the surfaces, vacuuming the ceilings – pretty much every square inch is being touched in some way.”

Buck said the restoration work will be finished in the next few weeks, but there’s another project to tackle before the restaurant can reopen to the public.

Barriers must be installed in the steep slopes behind the lodge to further protect it from the potential landslides of the scarred, vulnerable soil and trees.

After a group photo in front of the waterfall, the employees headed back to their cars to go home and continue the wait to reopen.

It’s unclear when exactly the lodge will reopen, and it’s a decision that will be made jointly by the U.S. Forest Service, ODOT and restaurant owners.

Westerhuis said the restaurant hopes to reopen in time for the holiday season and hopes customers look forward to its return.

“Just come and support us when the time comes because we’re going to be ready to be there for you.”

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