Oregon’s Eagle Creek Wildfire–Six Years Later


Eagle Creek six years after the wildfire. Photo George Wuerthner

In September 2017, the Eagle Creek Wildfire scorched 50,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland. Numerous media accounts suggested the blaze “destroyed,” “damaged,” and devastated the forest communities.

Wildflowers are favored by wildfire. Photo George Wuerthner 

As one reporter suggested, the blaze looked like something out of “Dante’s Inferno.”

The fire was started by a teenager who threw a firecracker into the Eagle Creek canyon. With hot weather and high winds, the fire grew rapidly and even jumped the mile-wide Columbia River to start another blaze on the Washington side. At one point, the fire surged 13 miles in just 16 hours.

Lower Punchbowl Falls, Eagle Creek, Mount Hood NF, Oregon. Photo George Wuerthner 

It’s worth pointing out that there is absolutely no fuel in the Columbia River, and if such a “fuel break” fails to halt wildfires under extreme fire weather, why does anyone believe Forest Service propaganda that “thinning or prescribed burns” can stop large fires?

Among other features, the blaze threatened the Multnomah Falls lodge and even the community of Cascades Locks.

Wildfires open the forest canopy promoting flowers, which in turn promotes native bees. Photo George Wuerthner 

In the aftermath of the fire, and with the passage of a few years, more positive reports were being posted in the local media about the “recovery” of the area.

Even when the media tries to spin wildfire positively, it still uses the “green forests” paradigm as the ideal landscape. Oregon Forest Forever promotes the idea that we must “Keep Oregon Green.” Their means of keeping Oregon green is to log it.

The “devastated” forests along Eagle Creek. Photo George Wuerthner 

However, it is essential to note that not all species need or find “green forests” suitable habitat. Many animals and plants depend on dead wood, snags, and open forest floor to survive. For many people, the Eagle Creek fire was a blessing. Many species were “recovering” from green forests. Wildfires “rejuvenate” the land.

Logs that fall into streams create a habitat for fish and aquatic insects. Snag forests are important for numerous bird species. Down wood and snags store carbon.

Wildfires are important for episodic input of logs into aquatic ecosystems, which in turn promotes fish and other species in waterways. Photo George Wuerthner 

And the increase in wildflowers after a blaze creates is ideal habitat for native bees.

Nevertheless, within the paradigm that dominates the public’s thinking, a wildfire is a “destructive” force instead of a rejuvenating force.

Punchbowl Falls, Eagle Creek, Oregon. Photo George Wuerthner 

I recently hiked the Eagle Creek Trail to see how the blaze had influenced the landscape. In general, the Eagle Creek area was surprisingly green (despite my admonishments about green). Since nearly all western ecosystems are affected by wildfire at some point or another, it’s critical to understand that wildfire is as much a creator as it is a “destroyer” of plant communities.

The Eagle Creek Trail, Mount Hood NF, Oregon. Photo George Wuerthner

If more people recognized that if you love the landscape you see today, chances are a wildfire created it.


  1. Anotherview Avatar

    They said the same things about the Yellowstone fires of 1988, too. And the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Humans suffer from shifting baseline syndrome, reflexive fear/hate of change, and the idea that fires remove what is useful/preferred by us (shade, timber, etc). We cannot seem to accept what takes life from one, gives it to another.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Beautifully put. It’s a natural process!

    2. Jeff Avatar

      Industries and their lackeys in government use the natural fear of fire to convince people that it’s OK to do things like killing trees. Natural wildfires are a necessary part of life on Earth, and anyone who wants to eradicate them should find another planet to live on. What needs to be done here is to stop all the human-caused fires like this one.

  2. Deane Rimerman Avatar

    When I look at this post in my Feedly RSS feed reader I get super big beautiful images, but when I shared the link with friends on Facebook and they go to your website they’re only seeing super small hard to see pictures. Is there any way you can turn off the setting that makes these images super small and hard to see? Or maybe just post high resolution pics in a google photos or similar folder?

    1. Rambling Dave Avatar
      Rambling Dave

      I get the same small images on my iphone and chromebook browsers. It looks like WordPress is resizing the images down to 300px, which is tiny by today’s standards but probably okay for when this blog got started. There should be an option to use larger sizes while importing the images into posts, but I’d guess that George has other, more important things to think about than webtech crap.

      1. Deane Rimerman Avatar
        Deane Rimerman

        Yeah,they’re such beautiful pictures, that if Wuerthner created a slideshow, or uploaded them to Google photos and shared a link, it’d be so much more impressive of a study of healthy fire recovery because there was no salvage logging. But I don’t think he reads his comments. Never once seen him reply to anyone on them.

  3. Rambling Dave Avatar
    Rambling Dave

    Perhaps one reason we can’t see wildfires as part of a larger ecological context is that the english language lacks the descriptive place-based depth to allow for meaningful discussions about long-term destructive-creative events. Kind of like how the Inuit and Nordic peoples have many dozens of words for talking about snow and english has… well… one that’s in general use. Lacking expressive power with wildfires we tend to fall back to using words normally reserved for war and destruction, kind of like how people who lack adequate vocabularies to express themselves will often overuse the F-word in place of more nuanced, more appropriate words.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      More likely it’s because of our grossly unnatural lifestyles, our hubris and outsized egos that make us think that only humans matter, and our total disconnection from the natural world. I agree that language has some effect, but I think there are much deeper problems at play here.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner