Maegan Jossy has been spokeswoman for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge for more than seven years.

JossyWhen the news came that the Gorge was burning, Maegan Jossy couldn't believe it.

"I was just paralyzed last night," she said.

The Eagle Creek Forest Fire sparked on Saturday has consumed more than 10,000 acres of forest and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes in the Columbia Gorge, sending ash and soot into the air across the Portland area.

Jossy, a Hillsboro resident and outreach coordinator with Friends of the Columbia Gorge, said that although the blaze is more than 60 miles away from Hillsboro, the loss of the gorge will impact the Portland area for years.

"We're all impacted, wherever you live," Jossy said.

Since 1980, Friends has been working to preserve the gorge's natural beauty, offering hikes and other recreational programs along the 85-mile national scenic area. Jossy said nobody saw the fire coming.

"It's heartbreaking," she said. "It's devastating. You can use all sorts of adjectives to describe it, but it's not enough when you see this inferno out there. It's such a treasured landscape. There is no other gorge like it on this planet, from the wild flowers to the waterfalls to the wildlife."

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Fire officials said over the weekend that the fire was likely started by teenagers playing with fireworks.

"What is so sad is that this was preventable," Jossy said. "It was completely avoidable."

For days, Jossy and others at the organization have been updating social media and the group's website, trying to educate the public about road and trail closures throughout the gorge, along with an ever expanding list of communities that are preparing for evacuation.

"We need to keep people educated and get out the most up-to-date info," she said. "The nation is watching this."

Friends of the Columbia Gorge is raising money for Hood River Search & Rescue, which worked to get more than 100 hikers trapped by the wildfire out of the gorge on Sunday and Monday.

"As an organization, there's not a lot that we can do right now, we're not firefighters, but we can do this" Jossy said. "A lot of our work will start when the fire is put out. We need to see the condition of the gorge and see how we can restore trails and see what we can do from that standpoint."

For now, she said, she waits. And watches.

"It's unknown at this point what the Gorge will look like when this is over," she said. "Right now, we need to get the fire out and protect the people and the animals."

By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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