Saving Multnomah Lodge: ‘We didn’t want Oregon to lose that’

Most people have returned home and I-84’s westbound lanes opened last week, but the Eagle Creek fire continues to burn, just 32 percent contained. Here’s how crews saved Oregon’s historic landmark.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Rick Buck could feel the fire coming.

Winds swirled like little tornadoes just yards from the Multnomah Falls Lodge. The air alternated between hot and cold. Thick smoke boiled in, burning his eyes.

Buck, the proprietor of the historic 1925 building, felt helpless.

“I just said to myself, ‘I’m out of here,’ ” he recalled.

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Soon, flames ripped across the ridge at the top of the falls. They swept down the hillside and raced toward the squat stone structure with a wooden roof.

Trees fell. Temperatures surged. And firefighters had their marching orders: Protect the lodge.

It was an exhausting overnight firefight, but the building emerged unscathed — cedar shakes and all.

“Multnomah Lodge is the icon of Oregon,” said Lance Lighty, a Eugene Springfield Fire battalion chief called in to help manage the blaze. “We didn’t want Oregon to lose that. And we weren’t going to let the fire win on this one.”

The wildfire started Sept. 2 along the Eagle Creek Trail, but it took off two nights later, whipped by winds that pushed it hard and fast toward the falls, about 12 miles west in the gorge.

The Eagle Creek fire now covers 48,387 acres and has prompted evacuations and the longest shutdown in recent memory of Interstate 84 between Hood River and Troutdale — an area often closed in spurts when winter storms hit.

Although most people have returned home and the freeway’s westbound lanes opened Thursday, the fire continues to burn and is 32 percent contained.

THE BATTLE

Lighty had already had a wild Labor Day.

He had helped make the call that holiday Monday to shut down the interstate in both directions, working with the Oregon Department of Transportation. He had watched 30 mph-plus gusts shift and drive flames and smoke through the dense forest parched by a rainless summer.

Now the fire was making a beeline for Oregon’s highest waterfall and its namesake lodge, among the state’s most revered destinations and backdrops for countless family vacations. A top tourist attraction, Multnomah Falls gets an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million visitors a year.

Lighty and his colleagues knew…

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