Eagle Creek Fire Verdict Opinion

Metlako Falls Eagle Creek Columbia River Gorge

Eagle Creek Fire Verdict – Here’s my statement concerning today’s court hearing concerning the teen who started the Eagle Creek Fire.

I feel that this is fair and I’ll tell you why.

I have been as angry as anyone about this. I think that you all know that. I have family and friends in Cascade Locks and the Stevenson area who were affected directly by this fire. The fire will ultimately cost me money as my guide business in the gorge is, essentially, shut down. I have a lot to be angry about.

With that being said, I must remove the vitriol, vindictiveness and emotion from my thinking to see this logically. This, I feel, is what the law is required to do in these emotional cases. The job of that judge was to put all emotional arguments aside while all of the facts are considered.

Prior to this day we’ve had some lively discussions about this on my Facebook page. Some have called for extremely severe punishment while others want to pass it off as just a bad decision by a child who didn’t know any better.

The consensus seemed to be to have this teen serve a ton of community service working to correct what he spoiled and to have him serve some sort of probation. That’s just what he received. It was also the maximum that the judge could rule in a juvenile court.

The hearing scheduled in May to determine restitution will be nothing more than a formality and nothing less than a lesson in futility if collection from the family is expected. The cost of fighting the fire is close to $20,000,000 and each person who was affected by the fire has a right to sue the family for up to $7500 each in damages. This will all go unpaid and the cost of fighting the fire will be paid for by the taxpayer.

This teen will receive almost 2000 hours in community service working directly with the US Forest Service. It is my hope that during this 2000 hours he will find a mentor who will direct his attention to the importance of conservation as well as community. If we can trust the system these things will be addressed during his time serving the community.

Although the letter of apology was finely crafted, or at least refined by his lawyers, I believe him. I believe that he understands now the enormity of his actions. I feel that he truly realizes that his actions can affect so many more than just himself.

It is my reasoning that if the system would have sent this teen to a jail situation he would come out bitter. I’m hoping that his sentence of community service and monitoring through the probation system that he will come out of this a better human than he would have otherwise.

It’s now time to heal. It’s time to heal our anger. It’s time to heal the losses that those who have been affected have felt. It’s time now to heal the Columbia River Gorge and go forward in the future with an increased level of awareness of how fragile this land is and how easily we all affect the land when we recreate there.

#eaglecreekfire #columbiarivergorge

Photographing the Columbia River Gorge

Photographing the Columbia River Gorge

Photographing the Columbia River Gorge  – A day Photographing the Columbia River Gorge with my client and now friend Chris Byrne from Chris Byrne Photography. This was a great day for a photography adventure.

This video was taken a couple season’s ago prior to the recent Eagle Creek fire that devastated the Columbia River Gorge. Most all of the trails in the gorge are now closed for the foreseeable future. The last that I had heard, as of the writing of this blog post, Multnomah Falls trail will be closed for a year minimum while the area is stabilized and trails cleared.

In this video you will visit Latourell Falls, Shepperds Dell, Ponytail Falls (Upper Horsetail, Elowah Falls, Wahclella Falls and seen from a photographer’s perspective.

Please keep an eye on my blog to hear of news of trail openings.  You can also see the work of one of my students, Candee Watson at this link. <–

Taking Care of Our Forests

Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - Charlie Riter Photo

Here on Mount Hood we are literally surrounded by forestlands. Our homes touch the edge of the Mount Hood National Forest and with increased recreational usage, and in light of the recent Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, concerns about wildfires and overuse are increasing. Many people aren’t aware that our local village is less than 20 miles from the Columbia River Gorge and the Eagle Creek Fire boundaries. A wind in a different direction was the only thing that prevented that fire from becoming a direct concern to our community.

In this day and age recreation is increasingly becoming the purpose and primary use of the forest. The amount of people using trails and camping areas has increased dramatically on public lands especially in areas such the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area and the Mount Hood National Forest. Local and Federal governments are trying their best to develop and to promote these areas to increase the usage and with this increased usage comes an increase in the impact on these areas. This makes our personal responsibility to and the assumption of stewardship of these lands important. We can’t have the attitude that it’s just the outdoors and that it will grow back or that the government will just repair or rebuild it. We must take care of it or lose it.

Most all of those who are coming out to use the forests are prepared, capable and aware of the responsibility involved in the use of these public lands, but there’s also an increased chance of having someone that’s not aware making mistakes or bad decisions that could prove costly or dangerous. There are many people who haven’t had the opportunity to live or to be taught the outdoor experience during their childhood. We can’t assume that everyone that is visiting the forest is aware of responsible forest use.

Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon - Adrian Blair Photo
Eagle Creek Fire, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon – Adrian Blair Photo

There are some basics that anyone that’s going to spend time in the forest should be aware of. These basics should be understood by anyone that goes out into the forest to recreate. The US Forest Service website has a wealth of information such as this that can be used to raise your awareness or of that of your friends and family before they go to play. They call it Responsible Recreation.

Camp responsibly. Use existing campsites or use an area without vegetation if possible. Keep the site small to minimize your impact. Don’t chop down or into trees. Camp at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams or wetlands. Use biodegradable soap or plain just water to wash with.

Answering nature’s call. Human waste can cause all kinds of problems if it’s introduced into the water. When you must go find a place that’s at least 200 feet from any water source. Dig a hole at least 6-8 inches deep to bury human waste. Pack out your toilet paper etc. Carry ziplock backs for this purpose. It’s kinda icky, but you’ll get used to it.

Be fire safe. First and foremost check with the ranger station in the area that you will be about any fire restrictions. Have a shovel, axe and a bucket of water available before starting the fire. Use existing fire rings. Remove flammable material from a ten foot diameter area around the fire. Keep fires inside of the fire ring. Don’t feed large logs into the fire. Never leave a fire unattended. Keep fires small and bring your own firewood. If you must collect wood from around your camp collect downed and dry wood only. Extinguish your fire properly. Poor water slowly into the coals while stirring with your shovel until the area is cool to the touch. Do not bury the fire as it can smolder for days. Never bring fireworks into the forest no matter the conditions.

Keep the forest creatures wild. Don’t approach wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife. Keep your dog completely under your control or on a leash to keep wildlife safe.

Don’t erase the traces of America’s past. Archaeological and culturally significant sites are protected and must be preserved for future generations. Anyone disturbing such areas can be dealt a substantial penalty if caught.

Be considerate of others. This should be a given in this society but unfortunately some folks don’t consider how their action affect others. Be courteous on trails and in the backcountry. Yield to others on trails. Take breaks and make camps away from trails and others who may be wanting to experience the solitude of the area. Keep noises down and let nature’s sounds and noises dominate.

And last but not least, don’t forget to take your camera.

It seems like a lot of do not do’s but trust that the do’s far outweigh the do not’s, so go out and enjoy the outdoors.

The photos for this article were provided by Adrian Blair of Adrian Blair Photography in Portland Oregon and Charlie Riter of Big Tree Photography in Hood River Oregon.