Oregon’s Wildfire Season Has One Especially Dangerous Weekend Ahead

For a taste of Oregon’s wildfire damage, turn to local newspapers.

As much as Portlanders enjoy complaining about the weather, we’ve got it easy right now.

Yes, Portland exceeded 90 degrees this afternoon—the 28th time that’s happened this summer. But the Willamette Valley has avoided the excruciating heat dome that’s scorching much of the West this week, setting records from Salt Lake City to San Jose.

Wildfire season has largely spared us, too. Unlike in 2017 and 2020, when devastating fires sparked during during the Labor Day weekend burned beloved woodlands at Portland’s doorstep, the metro area has so far been largely unaffected. We haven’t even had much smoke drift our way.

In other parts of the state, it’s a different story.

Nineteen active fires in Oregon have burned 107,427 acres. The largest of these, the Double Creek Fire, has burned 53,539 acres near the Snake River Canyon in the state’s farthest northeast corner. It is entirely uncontained. Near the California border, fire crews are finally getting a handle on the Rum Creek Fire, which has burned 17,000 acres.

High temperatures and dry conditions have left much of the West Coast vulnerable to disaster. A hour south of the Oregon border, in the California town of Weed, a wildfire burned more than 100 homes and destroyed a historically Black neighborhood founded in the 1920s.

Oregon officials warn that conditions are aligning for a similar disaster here. The National Weather Service’s Portland office says gusty winds are expected this Friday and Saturday. Those meteorologists say the chances of gusts similar to those that knocked down power lines in the Labor Day 2020 fires are less than 5%, and “most likely well below those speeds but still potential for rapid fire spread.”

With that in mind, it’s worth taking a moment to examine the reporting of news outlets in parts of Oregon currently choked by smoke.

Rum Creek Fire

Grants Pass Daily Courier

Reporter Shaun Hall spent a day with the woodland firefighters digging trenches to contain a fire that’s already burned down two homes and five other structures. “We are energized and ready to put a smackdown on this fire,” said firefighter Connor Curtis. “It might give us a run for our money, but we’re ready for it.”

Double Creek Fire

Wallowa County Chieftain

The local newspaper based in the tiny town of Joseph says fire crews are struggling to find a place to bulldoze a firebreak. They need to dig the line east-west to stop the fire from spreading north to the community of Imnaha, but the mountain ridges mostly run north-south. Plus, there’s growing worry that thunderstorms this weekend will expand the blaze.

Cedar Creek Fire

Salem Statesman Journal

Zach Urness, the Stateman Journal’s outdoors reporter, is a must-follow on Twitter for his roundups of fire conditions across the state—and because his beat overlaps some of city dwellers’ favorite camping destinations. He’s been closely watching the Cedar Creek Fire, which has now wrapped around Waldo Lake and closed all camping there.