Photographers Around the World Are Devastated as Majestic Columbia River Gorge Destroyed by Fire

My heart is heavy as I write this tonight, 20,000 acres of my ancestors ceded lands and the very fir trees they once lived beneath, are burning to the ground. Not only is the Columbia River Gorge some of the most beautiful land in Oregon venture in to and photograph, it holds a special place in my own heart. Did you notice the red moon across the country Monday night? Many of you likely took a photo of it like I did here in Louisville, Kentucky. It was breathtaking but today I was devastated to learn the moon was painted by the tragedy in my home lands and across the Northwest. 

As of now, the Eagle Creek fire is completely unconfined as dry heat and high winds cause it to grow at record speeds. The blaze spread 13 miles in 16 hours the night of the 4th sending its flames to merge with the Indian Creek Fire and across the border into Washington State. More than 70 plus landmarks and popular destinations for photographers worldwide are within the perimeter of the fire. The fires scorching the Umpqua National Forests are so bad that 200 active duty soldiers are being trained and sent in to fight alongside 1,000 brave firefighters. Around an inch of ash has fallen over the city of Portland, a 30-minute drive from the Columbia Gorge.Crews and residents including my mother are comparing the ash to the volcanic ash that fell in the area during the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It was the deadliest eruption in the history of the United States. Sadly, this tragic loss was started unnaturally by teenagers throwing fireworks into a canyon on the Eagle Creek Trails.

Photo of a devastated local by Mark Graves from The Oregonian

By Jeff Points, Eagle Creek Fire

Bridge of The Gods, photo by Omar G from Fox 12 Oregon

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released 600,000 Chinook salmon into the river from three hatcheries in the area in order to save them from falling ash that would have killed them. As the salmon flood the rivers to escape the fire, thousands of photographers who have visited the legendary Gorge are flooding social media with their images in remembrance of the land before the flames. Take a look at what's been shared HERE.

By Beth Nakamura from the Oregonian

Eagle Creek Fire blazing. Photo from The Oregonian

The falls and Lodge rank as the #1 visited natural attraction in the state with 2.5 million visitors to the epic falls each year. They travel thousands of miles to stand in the presence of her 600 feet of rushing spring water that flows underground from the Larch Mountain. Out of fear that the historic lodge underneath the falls may catch fire, photographs are removed from the walls ahead of time. On top of steep cliffs, firefighters worked relentlessly overnight to save the lodge and the Largest waterfall in Oregon. The area is scattered with natural miracles, another is supposed to come tonight in the form of the first thunder storm the Gorge has seen in months.

The Multnomah Lodge threatened by fire. Photo by Jim Ryan From the Oregonian

Photo of the red sun by Mark Graves from the Oregonian

As I grieve with the rest of Oregon and photographers around the world I searched everywhere for images from my last trip to the falls. Due to my lacking photo organization at the time it may take a few days or weeks to uncover them. For now, I will share this phone photo of my mother (Sorry Mom) in front of the iconic Oneonta Tunnel that is now burnt all the way through. Last June was the last time I got to see the Gorge. I was beginning a long drive all the way back to Kentucky, I spontaneously decided to take the scenic route out of Oregon along the Columbia river, and I'm so glad that I did.

My mother in front of what was the Oneonta Tunnel. Image on right from: Doug Gross, as the Tunnel filled with fire.

Although I find the emerging photographs of the fire and her sunset colors beautiful, I am devastated that when the fire is done taking she'll leave us with gray lifeless remains of the forest. For decades to come photographs taken of this sacred land will look nothing like they used to.

Photo by Pat Rose, Columbia River Gorge

My ancestors have a legend about how Maltnomah Falls was created when the chief's daughter had to sacrifice herself to save the tribes from a plague. The Princess climbed the cliffs of the Gorge until she reached a high cliff overlooking the water. She spoke out loud to the great spirit before jumping to save her people and becoming Maltnomah Falls as a symbol that she has entered the spirit world. Her words give me chills as the fire that is currently sacrificing 20,000 acres of her land, spares her and the lodge below as it passes to destroy everything else.

“You are angry with my people. Will you make the sickness pass away if I give you my life? Only love and peace and purity are in my heart. If you will accept me as a sacrifice for my people, let some token hang in the sky. Let me know that my death will not be in vain and that the sickness will quickly pass.”

Oregonian/ Oregon Live

Red Cross Disaster Fund

Read Native Legend of The Falls

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14 Comments

Michael Aubrey's picture

It's been a brutal summer for fires across both the PNW and British Columbia. Just tragic.

Kyle Medina's picture

Though this wasn't natural, dumb kids playing with fireworks.

Kyle Medina's picture

At the end of the day this is a good think for the forest. Wish I could take some before and after of the area.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

You are very right, it's cleansing. I can't wait to see it.

Patrick Dirlam's picture

Of course forests will regenerate but one thing nobody has mentioned is just how long this "reforestation" takes. I was just a kid in the 50s when Yosemite caught fire. It was a HUGE fire. I visit Yosemite every year and have seen many fires since including the devastating (man-caused) Rim fire. I was there 2 weeks ago and now there is the Railroad fire which is endangering 2,500 year old redwood trees.The huge area that burned when I was a kid is just starting to come back 60 years later! My grandfather told me back then that this part of Yosemite wouldn't even look close to what it did before the fire for at least 100 years! He was correct. So does that mean that the Columbia River Gorge won't rejuvenate itself for up to 100 years from now??? I was planning to finally see this majestic area next Spring. What now? I think the kids or their parents need to be prosecuted. The kids showed no intelligence or remorse for causing the fire!

Kyle Medina's picture

Ignoring the fact of property damage, lives of people having to fight the fire, possible loss of life. 3+ days in Juvy would do wonders for a lot of kids. You know wildfires are unpredictable, ex. Arizona fire killed 19 firefighters.

michael buehrle's picture

agree. fire is not gonna destroy a waterfall. it might look ugly for years but it will grow back.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Absolutely I already have some ideas for shoots when I visit home!

Dan Ostergren's picture

I live in Portland and visit the Gorge often. Sad to see this happen.

Brandon Vrvilo's picture

I don't want to take away from the pain many our feeling from these fires, but It has been very discouraging hearing so many photographers talk about how the gorge is ruined and such a magical place will no longer be beautiful. While it may not be the same, these fires bring about all kinds of new opportunities for photographers to shoot places like the Gorge in an all new light! The gorge has been so overshot by photographers all with relatively similar pictures and now they have the chance to take all new photos there. I'm not saying that makes the loss of these beautiful forests easier, but it does give an upside that I have been shocked to find more photographers aren't excited about. Burned forests are beautiful and I can't wait to see the photos that will be taken in the coming months. Plus as others have mentioned, fires are healthy for forests. I know this wasn't started naturally, but the fact that its burning the way it is is evidence that a natural fire was imminent. I know it's sad to see such beautiful places change, I mean Multnomah Falls is where my parents got engaged, I understand the sentimental value many places that are currently burning have for many people, but rather than continue to mourn isn't it worth moving forward and being excited about the opportunity these new landscapes will produce? As for me, I'm more excited than ever to visit the gorge, all new photos to be taken of such a spectacular place, as a landscape photographer I don't think it gets much more exciting!

Dan Ostergren's picture

As someone who visits the gorge very often, I personally don't see anything good or beautiful from a giant forest fire created by the negligence of an idiot teenager setting off fireworks. Many people have been evacuated and can't even work because of this, among other major issues facing the people affected by this fire. There's nothing good about this situation.

Logan Madson's picture

This was taken at 8am yesterday.. Looks like a fairly normal summer day at the falls to me...