On the worst day imaginable to be reckless with fire, at least two people were.
Both incidents happened Wednesday. Fortunately, both ended without mishap.
Around noon the Blue Mountain Interagency Dispatch Center at Union County Airport near La Grande received a report from a citizen about an abandoned campfire.
The place was what the Forest Service calls a “dispersed campsite,” of which there are several along Road 77 in the Eagle Creek canyon north of Richland. The caller had found both trash and a campfire that hadn’t been doused, said Peter Fargo, public affairs officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The good Samaritans extinguished the fire. The Dispatch Center sent firefighters to make sure all was well.
Wednesday evening a very similar situation played out, this one in the Eagle Cap Wilderness about 6 miles south of Wallowa Lake.
Whoever started the Eagle Creek fire was reckless in two ways. Campfires have been banned in dispersed campsites since mid-August. Worse still, almost any kid who recognizes Smokey Bear knows you never leave an active campfire.
(The Eagle Cap Wilderness fire was legal. However, starting today campfires are banned across the Wallowa-Whitman, including in the Wilderness.)
These two acts of indiscretion would have been troubling on an ordinary day. But they didn’t happen on an ordinary day. They happened on the day when the most destructive wildfires in Oregon history were ravaging much of the state west of the Cascades.
Although the fire danger is comparatively lower in our area, it is still high and, in places, extreme. Moreover, with fires devastating populated areas in Oregon, Washington and California, firefighting resources are limited. If a blaze starts here, local crews probably won’t be able to summon help if it’s needed.
Northeastern Oregon has fared far better than most regions this summer. And we’re fortunate that lightning, which starts a majority of the blazes here most years, is not in the immediate forecast. But warmer temperatures, possibly nearing record highs this weekend, are predicted. The fire season is not over.
With summer weather continuing, lots of people will be visiting the forests again, as they did during the Labor Day weekend. If we’re all diligent we will get through safely, albeit with the reminder, from the drifting smoke of distant fires smudging our skies, the danger that continues to lurk.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor