Security costs for Eagle Creek Fire continue to rise - KPTV - FOX 12

Security costs for Eagle Creek Fire continue to rise

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CORBETT, OR (KPTV) -

One of the big ongoing costs since the Eagle Creek Fire broke out last September is security.

“That’s a lot of money,” said Kirsty Hinton.

It’s the same reaction, no matter who you ask.

“It’s kind of a lot,” said Drew Fontes.

“Seems like a lot,” said Dustin Petersen. “Quite a bit.”

The quite a bit of money people in Corbett are talking about – the about $200,000 a month the Oregon Department of Transportation is spending right now to keep people out of closed areas in the Columbia River Gorge.

“It’s shocking,” said Hinton. “A little bit shocking.”

What that looks like is a person sitting in a car by a closed area. They get out if they need to tell someone to turn around or call the proper law enforcement agency in the area if they need to. 

“We have manned staffed road blocks at each end of the section of the Historic Columbia River Highway that are closed,” said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. “That’s at Bridal Veil and at Ainsworth at those areas, about six miles in between them.”

While people agree the amount of money being spent a month is surprising, they have different answers when it comes to whether it’s needed.

“Seems like they could just put up the proper barriers to get people away and not spend that much money to keep people out,” said Petersen.

“People wouldn’t listen to the barriers or the signs,” said Hinton. “They just do what they want to do, because I’ve seen it firsthand.”

Hamilton said so far they’ve spent about $8 million on recovery and they expect that number to exceed $12 million before it’s all said and done.

More than $2 million of that is estimated to come from security alone, according to ODOT.

“We’re not going to put a value or a cost on keeping people safe,” said Hamilton. “We’re keeping these roads closed and spending the money it takes to keep those roads closed because we don’t want anyone to get injured or die in these areas and that’s really what it amounts to.”

It’s known some people are passing barricades. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the department has already issued more than 100 citations and more than 1,000 verbal warnings since the closures of many trails and the historic highway.

“It’s very frustrating when we see that people are ignoring these warnings out there, because they’re putting themselves in jeopardy,” said Hamilton.

There is currently no timeline for when the closed portion of the highway will open. ODOT said there is still a lot of work to be done, like putting up some fencing and even using mesh to attach to the sides of the hillside where debris is still falling.

The Forest Service is also spending money for extra security along trails. A spokesperson said they’ve spent a little more than half a million since November.

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