An idiot setting off fireworks near Punchbowl Falls is the likely cause of a wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge that has consumed 3,000 acres, stranded 153 hikers overnight on a trail, and has the town of Cascade Locks preparing to evacuate over Labor Day weekend.
Oregon State Police announced this afternoon that the likely cause of the forest fire was this moron using fireworks on the Eagle Creek trail, one of the most popular destinations in the waterfall district east of Portland.
“We believe that fireworks is the cause,” says Sgt. Kaipo Raiser of the Oregon State Police. “We do have a suspect identified. No one has been arrested at this point. Potentially, there could be criminal penalties as well.”
The fire started Saturday afternoon, at the start of a three-day weekend where tinderbox conditions caused state forestry officials to beg revelers to be careful.
Someone wasn’t. Joel Ives of Hood River County Sheriff’s Office says the fire began “about a mile up from the Eagle Creek trailhead, which would be really close to Punchbowl Falls.” The photogenic pools are one of the most popular spots in the gorge for swimming, cliff jumping and pot smoking.
By 5:30 pm Saturday, 153 hikers were stranded by fire and smoke on the Eagle Creek trail—a steeply graded hike with 200-foot cliffs on one side. They headed uphill and huddled outdoors overnight.
This afternoon, school buses picked up the hikers at the top of the trail. One was taken to a hospital, dehydrated.
“We had them all continue up the Eagle Creek trail to Wahtum Lake and our search and rescue team met them there,” says Ives. “All known groups of hikers have been rescued and reunited. We’re still taking calls about people who may or may not have been in the area.”
The fire has grown to 3,000 acres, and is threatening to reach Cascade Locks, a town best known for the Bridge of the Gods. More than 130 homes in Cascade Locks have been evacuated, and Raiser says the entire town could be told to leave if winds pick up.
The schmuck-caused fire quadruples the number of acres burning in the Columbia River Gorge and has choked the air with smoke from Hood River to Gresham. Forestry and police officials say they’re having a hard enough time dealing with natural fires across the state, without worrying about people setting more.
“Not just fireworks—any kind of unattended fires is an extremely huge concern for us in this dry season,” says Raiser.
Police continue to ask Oregonians to not ruin the state’s most beautiful places by lighting bottle rockets and flares in the woods like a bunch of assholes.
UPDATE, 9:20 pm: WW’s news partner KATU-TV reports the suspect in the fire is a teenage boy. Oregon State Police say he is cooperating with the investigation, and could face charges including arson and reckless endangerment.