Forests and fire go together like peas and carrots.
From the dawn of time, forests have experienced a succession of fires — some small and almost civilized, and some infernos that wiped out entire ecosystems. It's nature's way of putting things right.
When too many trees fall dead to the ground, they elevate the risk of catastrophe by putting fuel right at the forest floor. Then along comes fire to clean up the mess. Flames devour smaller trees, and older, stronger trees remain and thrive with less competition for soil nutrients and water.
When forest vegetation becomes so dense that it shields the ground from sunlight, it makes the forest less inviting to wildlife that depend on grass and other plants for food. Then along comes fire to open up the forest canopy, and set the table for wildlife for years to come.
And after years of intense fire suppression, nobody should be too surprised that portions of our beloved Columbia River Gorge went up in smoke over the last week. It was bound to happen, whether it was the result of a lightning strike or a carelessly tossed firework.
It happened in 1991 with the Falls Fire, another human-caused event that torched the forest above Multnomah Falls and sent flames westward toward Corbett. And it undoubtedly happened many times before. It will happen again.
I know these words offer little comfort to those who, like me, cherish the forest, streams and trails of the Columbia River Gorge.
As a younger man, I recall countless backpacking adventures up the Eagle Creek Trail, past Punch Bowl Falls, across High Bridge, through Tunnel Falls and on up to our traditional overnight destination at Seven and Half Mile Camp. On more adventurous trips, we'd push on to Wahtum Lake, where we'd soothe sore feet in cool mountain water after another long day on the trail.
I worry about what's left of the Eagle Creek Canyon, of my teenage stomping grounds, and of what this week's fire — which is still burning and will likely continue for days or weeks to come — has done to countless other hiking trails and destinations in the Gorge.
But I take comfort in knowing that out of the ashes a more resilient forest will emerge. The Columbia River Gorge will not be destroyed. It's beauty will not disappear.
Changed? Sure. But we'll just have to get used to that.
A note to firefighters
Like thousands of other people in Oregon and throughout the world who have traveled to Oregon and visited Multnomah Falls, The Outlook offers its thanks and gratitude for the heroic efforts of firefighters to save the iconic rock and timber lodge. Though it was a team effort, it makes it even better to know that the home team — the Gresham Fire Department — was part of that endeavor.
And to the hundreds of firefighters on the ground still waging a battle against this conflagration, protecting homes and businesses, we thank you for your determination and send along our hope that you will be safe.
One final thought
If ever there was an event that demonstrated the associated risks of fireworks, then this is it. (Yes, I know. It hasn't been proven yet.) This is exactly why fire departments everywhere warn about the dangers of fireworks at the Fourth of July, and why state and federal forests ban these products.
It isn't just scare tactics from the fun suckers. The careless use of fireworks, discarded cigarettes and unattended campfires do start forest fires. Mother Nature tends to take care of starting enough fires on her own. Let's not lend her a hand.
Steve Brown is publisher of The Outlook.