05 September 2017

[EagleCreekFire] The Sort of Headline You'd Never In Your Life Expect To See In Portland

The Eagle Creek fire of 2017 has been much in the news, which is perfectly expected in as much as it seems to be claiming every tree between Cascade Locks and Troutdale and causing ash to fall from the sky in just about every corner of the Portland Metropolitan Area.

For the record, the last time that happened, a (formerly) nine-thousand-foot high mountain exploded. You might have heard about that one. We still talk about it around here.

But, I'll excuse the sardonic witticism for a moment. This fire now has consumed over 10,000 acres - that's nearly 16 square miles, or an area slightly smaller than that contained within the city limits of Albany - and is not currently being contained in any way, according to news reports I've read. The fire is now changing the face of the Columbia Gorge, has touched our beloved Multnomah Falls, and has generated the most intimidating headline event I've seen in all the years I've lived in Portland. 

As of this writing, There is a Level 1 evacuation alert in force from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office that actually extends into the urbanized part of the Portland Metropolitan Area.

At this point a few maps can provide clarity. Here, from the official fire information page on Facebook (which I just discovered) is a map of the estimated area involved in the fire itself:

This is the state-of-play as of the 5th of September. Those small squares tiling the map? Those are 1-mile square sections of the Public Lands Survey. Each one of those squares is one mile on a side. The fire zone itself is about fifteen miles long. 

Now, look there to the left hand margin of the map. See that wiggly blue line going to meet the Columbia River, just where the Columbia itself meanders northward in a big S? That's the Sandy River. At the point where I-84 (the freeway in the picture) crosses it, that amounts to the edge of the urbanized portion of the Portland Metropolitan Area. If one's looking at that, that's essential the edge of town. It's the eastern limit of the city of Troutdale. Make a mental bookmark of that landmark right now, because now I'll tell you a thing.

This next map I cadged from Google Maps, and it will show you the straight-line distance to what someone's pinned as the site of the fire's starting (presumably) to a point near my very address. Let's go to the map:

That's about thirty-two miles. If you live in Salem, that's a drive to Corvallis. The Sandy River is right about in the middle of the picture there; you can see the word "Troutdale" slightly obscured by the measurement line. If you compare this map with the one preceding, a sense of scale and just how close to the core of the metro area this monster has become. 

Now, here's where it gets personal, a little. Let's change the viewfinder:

Note again the position of the Sandy River and Troutdale. That heavy vertical line approximates 257th Avenue. The heavy horizonal line approximates SE Stark Street in the area. The measurement line indicates that my address is a mere 7.07 miles away from the corner of the Level 1 evacuation zone. Now, I don't expect the wildfire to come racing down Stark all the way to 122nd. But this is the closest I've ever been to anything like this, and it puts a certain edgy sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach because I know very well how far apart things are in the Portland Metropolitan Area.

Of the people I know across the Web, I hardly have it bad though. There are people who are still recovering from Harvey in Texas, of course, and I have a handful of acquaintances in Florida who may well be visited by Hurricane Irma which is, at this pass, working on being the strongest hurricane since hurricanes, with an approximate threat level of 72 Godzillas and rising. That gives a certain perspective. And rain is forecast here soon (not soon enough, but soon), thus a respite is expected.

Still, this is not a crisis one who's been a city mouse for more than three decades would ever think they'd ever hear about; Troutdale under potential evacuation threat because of an historic wildfire in the Columbia Gorge. 

This, clearly, though, is not the world of thirty years ago.

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