Oregon is at a dangerous junction this week: the start of a historic heat wave and the launch of fireworks sales in advance of the July 4 holiday. That’s causing land managers in the Columbia River Gorge to stress that those explosive devices do not belong in our forests.
Further adding to the fire risk is that all six counties in the National Scenic Area are experiencing some stage of drought. That’s an 85-mile stretch of land that begins at the Sandy River Delta in Troutdale to the Deschutes River State Recreation Area just east of The Dalles.
This year has already seen an incredibly early start to wildfire season in Oregon and Washington. In May, downed power lines sparked a blaze outside The Dalles that closed I-84 and triggered Level 3: Go Now evacuation orders for some residents. And while those flames were quickly contained, the S-503 Fire south of Mount Hood on the edge of the Warm Springs Reservation is only 30% contained and has torn through nearly 7,000 acres since it began last Friday.
Based on those fires and tinder-dry conditions, Friends of the Columbia River Gorge is urging extra caution prior to the Independence Day weekend.
“As the climate changes, it is critical that all of us—Scenic Area county residents, tourists, campers, and day-hikers alike—take extreme care and act as responsible stewards for our public lands in the Columbia Gorge,” Kevin Gorman, the nonprofit’s executive director, wrote in a post on its website. “Forests are no place for fireworks and in fact are illegal on federal and state public lands.”
Gorman also shared a startling statistic to underscore the need for awareness: Americans start twice as many wildfires on July 4 than any other day during summer.
Fireworks aren’t the only concern, as people head for the hills this season for vacations. Whether staying in a designated park or bushwhacking it to a dispersed campsite, Friends of the Columbia River Gorge wants to remind everyone that fires should never be left unattended and always completely put out before you leave.
“With our world finally opening back up, all of us are eager to enjoy the best of what the Pacific Northwest offers,” Gorman added. “But please remember that one careless action can turn an enjoyable outing into a deadly situation. Please keep fire out of your holiday plans in our great outdoors.”