Mass replanting in gorge after Eagle Creek Fire is unlikely

Interstate 84 to reopen Sunday or Monday

TROUTDALE, Ore. -- The Oregon Department of Transportation led a tour of areas along Interstate 84 that were damaged by the Eagle Creek fire.

One of the starkest examples is the historic Oneonta Tunnel.

Today, it’s little more than a dark and dirty hole under the hill.

Before the fire, the structure had been carefully restored with beautiful wood and craftsmanship that gave it a lasting beauty.

It withstood 10 years until the fire devoured it.

There are other dangers and worries now in the gorge, the most obvious is the lack of anything green on the ground. That could lead to disaster with the heavy rains.

“What we're worried about is we could end up with debris flow events,” said Stephen Hay, a geologist with the Oregon Department of Transportation. “What that is…is a mass of unconsolidated material that comes down from very high up the drainage – builds up a lot of velocity and ends up here on our highway system."

“As we get more and more water, the soils will get heavier and wetter---there’s' that potential for that material to come down in the drainage,” he said.

Then there are the trees. The fire scorched thousands of them. Some will die but few, if any, will be replaced. The blackened trees you see next time you drive through the gorge will likely be there for some time.

“If anyone's imaging that there’s going to be like a mass replanting in the sense of a timber plantation type thing, that's probably unlikely to happen,” said Rachel Pawlitz, a public information officer with the U.S. Forest Service.

She said much of the fire burned through the Mark O’Hatfield Wilderness Area and the Columbia Gorge Scenic area. Current directives say nature should decide what happens next, not humans. 

© 2017 KGW-TV


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