With Oregon on fire, where should you go, or avoid, this Labor Day Weekend?
A number of fires continue to grow across Oregon as August comes to a close. Wochit
Giant fires from Mount Jefferson to Mount McLoughlin — and even to the Southern Oregon Coast — have made planning for outdoor adventure a nightmare.
Whether an area is closed, open or blanketed in smoke has often been unclear as new fires appear daily and an area half the size of Rhode Island burns.
Here’s a look around the state at places normally popular for outdoor recreation, and what their story is heading into the weekend.
You can’t escape the smoke no matter where you travel in Oregon, but are still plenty of places that are mostly free of large wildfires.
The central and northern Oregon Coast is a good place to start, even though you might find pretty hefty crowds.
Even better is Oregon’s Coast Range, where old-growth forest, waterfalls and less-traveled campgrounds offer smaller crowds.
There’s no way around it: there are a ton of wildfires burning between Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters.
Any trip in this area, including Santiam Pass or the Cascade Lakes near Bend, will be impacted by smoke and places closed to outdoor adventure.
There are at least 20 fires actively burning in the Cascade Crest. The largest includes Milli (22,000 acres) and Whitewater (10,000 acres).
As a result, there is no shortage of closures.
Here’s a list of the most up-to-date numbers on areas closed, keeping in mind this could change any time.
Milli Fire / Three Sisters fires (Bend / Sisters area): 183,646 acres
Whitewater Fire (Mount Jefferson area): 116,228 acres
Rebel Fire (Cougar Reservoir area): 67,392 acres
Jones Fire (Eugene / Lowell area): 57,120 acres
Staley Closure (Oakridge area): 51, 680 acres
Headed to Crater Lake? Expect smoke
There have been times during the past week when it’s possible to get a wonderful view of the United States’ deepest lake.
But more frequently, Crater Lake has been blanketed in smoke, making it a challenge to see or photograph the lake’s famously blue waters at Oregon’s only national park.
“Look, we’re open and excited to welcome people to Crater Lake this weekend,” park spokeswoman Marsha McCabe said. “And there are times when you can get a decent view of the lake. It just depends on how the wind is blowing and what the fires are doing.”
Crater Lake has been surrounded by fires this summer. The Spruce Lake Fire is burning just west of the park’s West Rim Road — you often see flames and smoke from the road, McCabe said.
To the south, the Blanket Creek Fire is about four miles from the park’s campground, cabins, restaurant, and store. That area, called Mazama Village, is under a precautionary level 1 evacuation warning.
Even so, it’s mostly business as usual at Crater Lake. The trolley and boat tours are still running. Most of the park’s most popular trails remain open.
It’s just a matter of what you’ll see, and whether you’re sensitive to smoke.
“If you have a medical condition, you should probably consider coming another time,” McCabe said. “But if you’re coming from a long distance, we’re open.”
North Umpqua River canyon
Bill Blodgett’s clients on the North Umpqua River have looked a bit different than normal this August.
Instead of welcoming families clad in shorts and sunglasses, the owner of North Umpqua Outfitters has filled his rafts with firefighters wearing nomex and hardhats while wielding Pulaskis.
Such is life in this summer recreation paradise east of Roseburg that’s been transformed by 14 wildfires burning as part of the 23,501-acre Umpqua North Complex.
Ever since the fires broke out in early August, a place that would normally be filled with hikers, rafters and anglers has been dominated by the 1,000-plus firefighters attacking multiple blazes along State Highway 138.
The highway is closed for 7 miles from milepost 47 to 54, and numerous trails and campgrounds have been shuttered as well.
Most importantly to Blodgett, the North Umpqua River has also been closed to rafts due to fires dropping burned-over logs into the typically idyllic stream.
“I was on pace for a record-setting season,” Blodgett said. “We had an outstanding July and it looked like that would continue in August.”
But instead of being stuck on the sidelines, Blodgett was drafted into action ferrying firefighters across the river and providing emergency evacuation capabilities to those on the line.
“We’ve become a ferry service for the firefighters, to get them across the river so they could access the fire by foot,” he said. “They also needed a safety plan to mitigate danger to the firefighters, by having a way to get them out and across the river quickly.”
The jobs have allowed Blodgett, who’s been running trips on the North Umpqua since 1992, a way to keep his guides employed during the river shutdown.
“I would have liked to have finished our season, but being able to be a benefit to the firefighters and community is a great opportunity,” he said. “To be participating rather than sitting on the sidelines has been rewarding, and even though it’s short, I think the rides on the river give a little morale boost to the firefighters.”
Those planning to travel to North Umpqua area for the Labor Day Weekend will likely find plenty of smoke and closures.
While popular spots such as Toketee Falls, Watson Falls and Umpqua Hot Springs remain open, they can be difficult to access given the Highway 138 closure and various restrictions.
Steamboat Inn on the river has remained open, along with one small slice of river that allows some fishing, but that’s about it between Susan Creek Campground and Boulder Flat Boat Launch.
Southern Oregon Coast
Oregon’s largest wildfire has brought havoc to Oregon’s southwest corner, after what began as a relatively small fire blossomed into the nation’s top firefighting priority.
The fire has centered around the town of Brookings, which sits just 5 miles from a fire burning most actively in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
The fire had blackened 125,000 acres as of Wednesday morning, but the fire is expected to grow. The good news is that containment lines appear, for the moment, to have stopped the fire’s expansion toward populated areas on the Southern Oregon Coast.
Famous camping and hiking destinations on Oregon’s south coast and into the redwoods of Northwest California remain open for the most part.
Harris Beach State Park is fairly full, as many of the 4,500 people displaced by the fire are camping at the park. But nearby places to hike, including the Boardman Scenic Corridor, and Cape Sebastian, remain open.
Hikers and campers should avoid anything east of Brookings, in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness or at Loeb State Park, which is closed.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors writer, photographer and videographer in Oregon for nine years. He is the author of the book “Hiking Southern Oregon” and can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.