‘Challenging conditions’ thwarted early Beachie Creek Fire attack

Wildfires

Some people feel more should have been done before the major windstorm on Sept. 7

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) –– Some who lost their homes in the Beachie Creek Fire earlier this month are questioning whether enough was done to prevent the fire from spreading so quickly. 

The fire had already been burning for three weeks before the major windstorm blew in on Labor Day. It was listed at 469 acres at the time and, two days after the windstorm, fire officials said it had grown to more than 132,000 acres. 

During those first few weeks, the Beachie Creek Fire was burning in extremely steep terrain. Crews had trouble simply finding areas that were relatively safe to fight it. 

“Rappelers were pulled in to see if they could land safely into that deep, decadent overgrowth, heavy timber and that was deemed unsafe,” explained Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

Grafe said their strategy was to monitor the fire to the best of their ability using aircraft. 

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said, “I think there were extensive efforts, I think the conditions were extremely challenging.” 

While the cause of the Beachie Creek Fire is still under investigation, many people now want to know what steps officials took knowing high winds were expected on Sept. 7.

In a briefing posted to the Beachie Creek Fire Facebook page, the incident management team said they had to make a plan to meet the fire as it moved because they couldn’t get to where it was burning. They said they did prepare for the winds but it spread faster than they could have imagined. 

State fire officials have previously stated that downed power lines may have sparked at least 13 additional fires in the Santiam Canyon during the windstorm. Fires were growing in places like Gates before the Beachie Creek Fire reached the area. 

Evacuation levels lowering

Effective at 9:00 a.m. Friday, evacuation levels for multiple cities within Marion County are being downgraded. The cities of Detroit, Idanha and the Elkhorn community along North Fork Road will be reduced to a Level 2 “Be Set” evacuation level. The North Fork Road Level 2 status goes up to the boundary with U.S. Forest Service property near milepost 15.5. The evacuation map will be updated accordingly at 9 a.m.

Evacuation levels starting 9 a.m. Friday:

Level 3:

  • Breitenbush
  • Crooked Finger Rd south of the cattle guard

Level 2:

Detroit
Idanha
OR 22E between milepost 33 to 56.2, west of Cooper’s Ridge Road

Level 1:

Mill City
Gates
Lyons
Mehama

The Oregon Department of Transportation is working remove hazardous trees and debris along OR 22E between milepost 33, in Gates, and milepost 65, near Marion Forks. To allow residents
access to the cities of Detroit and Idanha, ODOT will be using pilot cars to lead residents through the closed sections of OR 22E between Gates and Detroit. Residents may travel freely between Detroit and Idanha with OR 22E closed to eastbound traffic at milepost 56.2, west of Cooper’s Ridge Rd.
There is no through access to the Santiam Pass from the Detroit/Idanha area at this time. Tree removal in the area between Gates and Detroit will cause delays for the inbound and outbound pilot car trips. Residents should expect at least one hour to make a one-way trip. Pilot cars guiding residents between Gates and Detroit will be limited to the following daily schedule:

• 9 a.m. – Pilot car departs Gates to Detroit
• 11 a.m. – Pilot car returns from Detroit to Gates
• 1 p.m. – Pilot car departs Gates to Detroit
• 5 p.m. – Pilot car returns from Detroit to Gates

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