Since an adolescent in the running for the 2017 Darwin Award ignited the Eagle Creek fire, tenacious firefighters have worked tirelessly to contain the flames that continue to destroy vast swaths of the Columbia River Gorge’s natural beauty. One landmark, in particular, was at risk of destruction and may not have survived the flames had it not been for their bravery and quick thinking.
Oregon State Fire Marshal Structural Team Saves Historic Lodge
Thanks to a resilient team of structural firefighters, the iconic Multnomah Falls Lodge was spared from the hungry flames of the Eagle Creek fire as they enveloped one of Oregon’s most scenic waterfalls. It took just two days for the fire to spread to the region from its point of origin near Punch Bowl Falls. The fire soon posed a threat to the lodge as firefighters braced for battle.
The fire ripped across the ridge atop the falls and blazed downward toward the rigid stone structure. As trees plummeted, temperatures surged. All the firefighters on duty had just one goal: save the lodge.
A team of water tenders managed to keep the lodge damp as the fire storm progressed. Fire crews used hose lines to protect the lodge from heat as large trees torched. The battle lasted overnight, but the lodge came out unscathed.
Preparing for Battle
As the stench of thick smoke filled his nostrils and burned his eyes, Rick Buck knew the lodge was in danger. The proprietor of the historic structure evacuated the lodge as fire crews arrived to fend off the flames. Lance Lighty with the Eugene Springfield Fire Battalion was called in to lead the crew. After a hectic holiday weekend, he had influenced the shutdown of I-84 while working with ODOT. He had witnessed first-hand 30-MPH gusts catalyze flames and smoke through the dense forest of the Gorge during an extremely dry summer. As the flames skirted the state’s highest waterfall, Lighty recognized the importance of the lodge and was determined to save it at all costs.
He and his staff knew that plenty of firefighters would be needed to have a shot at victory. They needed to find a way to moisten the area around the lodge and the roof from above, as it was too late to remove any dry brush or nearby trees, or dig trenches. At about 10 pm, a ladder truck and four fire engines were called in as well as five water tenders from nearby fire departments. The crews set up at the base of the falls.
The ladder truck was used as a sprinkler, wetting the lodge’s roof and an area within 30-40 yards around it. Fire hoses were used to provide an ongoing water supply. A few members assisted lodge workers by removing historic photographs, interior furniture, decorative items, and valuables from the lodge. Outdoor furniture and supplies were moved inside.
By midnight, the flames had the ridge surrounded. For several hours, the fire crew kept the flames from progressing to the lodge, but they eventually came to surround the lodge on three sides. The fire approached the sprinkler perimeter by 4 am. Firefighters poured water on the periphery to prevent burning debris rolling closer to the lodge or embers from flying onto the lodge’s roof. The worst was over by Tuesday evening, but firefighters doused the lodge and surroundings through Thursday to make sure their hard work paid off. Buck acknowledged that without their help, the lodge would have ceased to be.
Brief History of the Lodge
Multnomah Falls Lodge was erected in 1925 at the base of Multnomah Falls. It was designed by Portland architect Albert E. Doyle, who was known for other designs throughout the city. The natural attraction draws about 2.5 million visitors a year, ranking the Falls as the state’s’ top-visited natural wonder. Hiking Multnomah Falls is a highly popular activity for Portlanders and people who visit from all over the world. Multnomah Falls plunge a total of 620 feet, distinguishing the falls as the state’s highest waterfall and second highest in the entire country.
“Multnomah Lodge is the icon of Oregon,” said Lance Lighty. “We didn’t want Oregon to lose that. And we weren’t going to let the fire win on this one.”
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