Locals mourn fire damage in the Gorge
Residents of East Multnomah County, suffering with the smoky air from the Eagle Creek Fire, are understandably heartbroken over the devastation to their beloved Columbia River Gorge.
"It's terrible, horrible," said Glynna Turner, who was dropping a book off at the Gresham Library. The 68-year-old retired educator said she used to take her children to the Gorge to hike.
The Eagle Creek Fire was first reported Saturday afternoon, Sept. 2. It exploded to more than 20,000 acres, merged with another fire called Indian Creek Fire and had already burned more than 33,000 acres by Thursday afternoon. The fire closed down Interstate 84 from Troutdale to Hood River and the Union Pacific rail line. The Coast Guard closed 20 miles of the Columbia River to boat traffic. Hundreds of homes in the Gorge have been evacuated.
"My heart just breaks," said Cyndi Gibson, who is a vendor and the manager at Northwest Creations and Collectibles. "My mother lived in Bridal Veil and she remembers all the trails and everything, she said 'this is so sad.'"
Tearing up, Gibson said "you think of how long it's going to take for all that beauty to grow back."
Steve Taylor, 49, a Gresham resident for 20 years said, "It's sad. I love the Gorge. It's our little jewel."
Grabbing an iced coffee at Cafe Delirium with his dogs Chupa and Buddha, Taylor said he's crushed by the fire and said his favorite place to visit is the Oneonta Gorge.
Taylor said he goes to the Gorge a couple of times a year.
"It has gotten to be such a touristy place, I go mid-week or non-peak times."
Gary Beutler, 64, from Troutdale, said "I think it (the Gorge) will come back stronger and better than ever." Beutler, enjoying a break at Bandit's Bar and Grill on Troutdale's main drag, said his favorite Gorge spot is Multnomah Falls.
Grabbing some lunch at Bandit's, 27-year-old Justin Swanson said "I'm always in the Gorge, hiking with my dog."
He counts Horsetail Falls as his favorite place to visit.
"I wish there was something I could do to help. But the best thing for anyone to do is to stay away and let the firefighters do their work," Swanson said.
Taylor, and others, bemoaned the fact that the fire is "due to the negligence of young people who don't understand the consequence of what they do. The Gorge is now going to look really different."
Oregon State Police said a 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, who was part of a group playing with fireworks, may have started the fire.
Gibson said "it will take time, but Mother Nature has a way of taking care of her own."
Optimistic, Gibson sees a silver lining in the devastation. Citing the fires in states all over the West, firefighters coming from other states and countries and the outpouring for victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma: "That's what makes us stronger, coming together in this type of situation. People want to help."