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wildfires

The 15-year-old boy who pleaded guilty to igniting the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge last September could be required to pay more than $36 million in restitution to 11 parties related to fire damage.

Judge John Olson did not reach a decision on how much to award in court and said he would issue a written order on the amount of restitution as early as Friday. 

The unnamed Vancouver, Washington, teen did not attend the restitution hearing in Hood River County Thursday morning. He was represented by his attorney Jack Morris.

How Do You Want Your Smoke?

May 7, 2018

There’s broad agreement that fire plays a vital role in forest ecology in the West. Many of our problems with severe wildfires can be traced, at least in part, to a century of putting fires out, rather than letting them clean up excess forest fuels.

Now, there’s a need to deliberately set controlled fires to help re-establish a more natural fire pattern. But after a summer in which residents and tourists alike choked on foul air and many events were canceled due to heavy smoke, are people ready to put up with more smoke from prescribed burns?

It arrived at 3 a.m on July 26, 2013. Dennis Sifford remembers details like this. They marked the beginning of his final shift as an incident commander on a wildfire.

“The lightning storm came in — dry lightning storm,” Sifford said, describing that morning. “It was unexpected.”

The storm touched down in mountainous terrain just north of the town of Glendale, Oregon. More than 80 fires started.

Twelve hours later Sifford got the call. He would lead the 3,000 people needed to fight what would be known as the Douglas Complex.

Tribes across the West are trying to restore their forests and grasslands to the way they were before white settlers arrived. Their goal is to return traditional foods like roots, huckleberries and big game.

But it’s a complex job.

The U.S. Forest Service says it will have more money to fight wildfires and more tools to prevent them thanks to the new wildfire funding bill Congress recently approved.

The extra resources may very well be needed in Oregon and California this year, where officials say they are already seeing an elevated risk of wildfire because of low snow pack and dry spring weather. The fire outlook is less concerning for Washington.

Some Trails Closed By Eagle Creek Fire To Reopen This Summer

Apr 29, 2018

The U.S. Forest Service plans soon to reopen some of the trails in the Columbia River Gorge that have been closed since the Eagle Creek Fire last year.

According to Lily Palmer with U.S. Forest Service, the trail to Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls will be the first to reopen early this summer. Trails east of Cascade Locks, including Starvation Creek Ridge Loop and Herman Creek, Mount Defiance and the Pacific Crest Trail should reopen later in the summer.

Last summer's Eagle Creek Fire burned more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge. Conservationists estimate that it may take years for some areas to reopen to the public. But despite the devastation, some areas in the Gorge are seeing their first signs of rebirth. 

Enter, the humble mushroom. The charred wood and decaying organic matter in the wake of a fire create the perfect environment for several types of fungi to thrive. Oregon's mushroom hunters are forecasting a mushroom bonanza this spring — including a bumper crop of the coveted wild morels.

Senator Maria Cantwell questioned the acting head of the U.S. Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, this week. Among the senator's top concerns: there may not be enough air support for fires in the West this year.

In Seattle, there’s a national fire research lab where scientists have been working on a new computer model to better aid land managers as they predict how fires will behave and where smoke will go. But now that federal work’s been halted.

We’ve seen more wildfires burning into urban communities  lately. But there’s  a lot homeowners can do to protect themselves,  according to top scientists at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab.

Homes located near or inside forests are a big complication for managing wildfires. Forest managers find themselves under increasing pressure to suppress natural fires because of the risk of nearby homes igniting.

But experts now say keeping those homes from burning could be cheaper and simpler than previously thought.

Forests and grasslands in Eastern Washington state are at high risk for large, intense wildfire. This spring Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to using controlled burning on more than 1,000 acres in Okanogan, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties.

Noe Vasquez, right, on a state wildfire crew in the Okanogan Valley. After Vasquez lost his DACA status and his job, a traffic stop led to immigration custody.
Courtesy of Noe Vasquez

The small outpost of Tonasket sits near the northern border of Washington state, surrounded by forests and farmland. It's probably not where you want to be if you're an immigrant at risk of deportation.

Just ask 20-year-old Noe Vasquez.


It may still be wet and muddy out there, and snow may even be on the ground in some places, but it’s also the time of year when wildland firefighters start to gear up for hot, dry weather and wildfires.

When Kathy Lampi's mom died of cancer last June, she placed the velvet bag filled with her mom's ashes on a shelf in her china cabinet. Lampi thought that was a fitting place for her mom to rest until she could plan a proper burial.

Then in October the Northern California fires reduced Lampi's two-story house in Santa Rosa to six inches of rubble. Her mom's ashes were now mixed in with the ashes of her sofa and front door.

The wildfires that burned through the Pacific Northwest this past summer caused hazy skies throughout Washington and Oregon. Air pollution from tiny particles released by fire is a known health hazard.

New research from Colorado State University is trying to quantify the effect on human health.

Updated 10:40 p.m. ET

Firefighters in California's Ventura and Santa Barbara counties find themselves still locked in a desperate struggle with what has become the fifth-largest wildfire in modern state history. The Thomas Fire, which for a time Sunday was ratcheted down just 10 percent contained, has ticked back upward to 20 percent containment.

Updated at 10 p.m. ET

Driven by fierce Santa Ana winds, four intense fires near Los Angeles grew to engulf more than 115,000 acres Thursday, and officials say residents should continue to expect dangerous fire conditions, as both strong winds and very dry conditions persist.

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

Firefighters were struggling to contain four wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, after a blaze broke out Wednesday morning within the LA city limits. The wildfires have burned a total of more than 100,000 acres, threatened more than 12,000 homes and other buildings and shut down 265 schools.

The Historic Multnomah Falls Lodge opened its doors to visitors Wednesday for the first time since the Eagle Creek Fire prompted its closure in September — peak visitor season.

Remnants of the fire remain, leaving popular areas off-limits to visitors including the lower viewing platform and trails surrounding the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon.

Autumn rains have washed away the smoke of the summer wildfires. But Congress remains embroiled in a high-stakes environmental debate over how to reduce the growing threat of catastrophic blazes in Western forests and rangelands.

Lawmakers are under more pressure to act after a wildfire season that was particularly harrowing. Nearly 9 million acres – an area about the size of New Jersey and Connecticut combined – burned. Intense smoke hit many of the West’s major cities, including Denver, the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland.

October's California wine country wildfires damaged more than 30 wineries. Now, the Northwest wine industry and wine drinkers are stepping up to with their wallets to help.

Burn scars left after major wildfires can look pretty bleak.  But take a couple million steps back and you’ll find those fires aren’t keeping up with the natural filling-in of forest vegetation.

New research out of Oregon State University makes the case that considering the big picture is important to our understanding of fire in our region.

The death toll from a series of blazes in Northern California has reached at least 31 people — making it the deadliest week for wildfires in the state's history. Officials are warning that more deaths are likely.

"We're moving into a recovery phase," Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said. "That is the reality part of it."

Speaking late Thursday, Giordano said that two more bodies had been recovered as search teams moved into areas where people had been reported missing in the wake of the fires.

Updated at 3:45 p.m. ET

The U.S. Postal Service hasn't abandoned Santa Rosa, Calif., where hundreds of people are coping with total losses of their homes from an explosive wildfire. The scene in Santa Rosa has been compared with an apocalypse — but that didn't stop a mail truck from making the rounds in at least one devastated neighborhood this week.

Nicole and Ben Veum had been waiting and waiting for their baby to arrive. Nicole's due date came and went. Her doctor called her in to the hospital — Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital — to induce labor. That was Friday.

"So we were very excited at that point," she said. "And then day after day after day, with not a whole lot of progress."

They tried three different ways of inducing labor. Then, on the third day, with the third attempt, it started working.

Updated at 6:17 p.m. ET

At least 15 people have died in intense wildfires that have destroyed thousands of buildings in Northern California, where firefighters are battling 17 large blazes in the state's wine country, including Napa and Sonoma counties. Together, they've burned 115,000 acres, according to Cal Fire.

Updated at 8:08 p.m. ET.

As many as 10 people have died in wildfires that erupted in Northern California over the weekend, forcing residents in the wine country north of San Francisco to flee as homes went up in flames. At least 1,500 structures have been destroyed and 20,000 people evacuated, according to member station KQED.

Some insurance companies are choosing not to renew policies in wildfire-prone areas of the inland Northwest. That’s sending home owners scrambling to find new coverage for their properties.

Geologists for the state of Oregon are warning of the risk of major landslides in parts of the Columbia River Gorge that were hit by wildfires this year.

A new report released Thursday focuses on areas of the Gorge that are highly susceptible to landslides—which also happen to overlap with some of the areas hit by this year’s wildfires.

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