After listening to the mournful interviews and reading the elegiac laments about the effects of the Eagle Creek fire burning in the Columbia River Gorge between Portland and Cascade Locks, we couldn’t help but contrast the widespread despair with the comparative silence just over two years ago when a blaze burned more than three times as much ground in Baker County.
We understand that the divide between the Burnt and Powder rivers, which burned in the 2015 Cornet-Windy Ridge fire, is not a National Scenic Area. It’s not so beloved as the Gorge, lacking the waterfalls and the hiking trails and, of course, the proximity to the Portland metro area.
But we’re loathe to try to compare the values of one piece of public land to another. No doubt more people visit Multnomah Falls in a single year than drive the forest roads around Dooley Mountain in a decade. But for the hunter whose favorite spot to stalk bucks was scorched in 2015, the Cornet-Windy Ridge fire was as significant as the Eagle Creek fire is to the thousands who relish the view of Oregon’s highest waterfall.
We’re not pleading for sympathy for our own blackened expanses.
But we hope the outpouring of grief for what flames have wrought in one of Oregon’s most popular tourist attractions leads people to understand that fires are far more frequent on our thinly populated side of the state, and that many of the blazes are started not by reckless teenagers with fireworks, but by lightning. Moreover, we hope the concern about the Gorge’s future leads to more vocal support for efforts to reduce the risk of fires everywhere in the state, whether that means logging projects, prescribed burning or other work.
If nothing else, the smoke that is fouling the air across most of the state ought to remind residents that wildfires are not strictly a local problem.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.