COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE NATIONAL SCENIC AREA
Burned Area Emergency Response Update – Eagle Creek Fire
Final Eagle Creek BAER Update
October 7, 2017
Hood River, Oregon – On October 5 and 6 the BAER Team made presentations to local and regional US Forest Service staff, cooperating agencies, and the news media about the preliminary recommendations for the Eagle Creek Fire emergency treatments. They explained the processes used to collect data about the burn severity, modeling results, and likely hazards to “Values at Risk”. The collection of field data was limited due to the lack of access to large parts of the burned area due to hazardous conditions including falling trees and rocks.
While the Columbia River Gorge has many areas that are naturally unstable, with a long history of repeated debris flows and rock falls, modeling results show that the Eagle Creek Fire has increased these risks.
A main threat from the fire is debris flows. About fifteen percent of the fire area burned so hot that it removed nearly all vegetation, severely damaged soil structure, and created a waxy layer on the soil that rainfall cannot easily penetrate. In these places rain will rapidly run off, carrying soil, rocks, and other debris downslope and downstream. This mix of rocks, debris, and water moves very fast, causing great damage and endangering people with no warning.
The most severely damaged drainages with the highest risk of debris flows include Eagle, Tanner, Moffett, McCord, Horsetail, and Oneonta Creeks. Risks also exist for recreation sites and trails in areas with low to moderate burn damage, downhill or downstream from more heavily burned areas. People, property, and other resources in these areas may be struck by a debris flow that starts further up the slope or stream channel, out of sight or earshot. For these reasons, keeping people out of these areas is critical.
Rockfall is another major threat from the Eagle Creek Fire. Pre-fire rocks and scree slopes on steep areas were held in place by moss, plant roots, and vegetation. The fire burned these natural glues, allowing small disturbances to send rocks down the hills. Even relatively small rolling rocks endanger lives and safety, and can seriously damage buildings, cultural resources, and infrastructure.
At Multnomah Falls Lodge the BAER Team is proposing emergency treatments to reduce the likely impacts of debris flows and rockfall on the historic lodge. Treatments are not proposed elsewhere as much of the burned area is too steep or geologically unstable to effectively treat. Safety concerns necessitate continued coordination with other agencies for both locals and visitors.
Once the final BAER Team report summarizing recommendations is finalized, the proposal will be reviewed and signed by local Forest Service administrators. This will then be submitted to the regional office for approval.
For more information, contact Rachel Pawlitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 308-1744.
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