The article in the Aug. 17 edition of The Chronicle by Erin Tierney-Heggenstaller (“Smoke & Heat High Temps Strike”) reported on the number of wildfires that had recently ignited in forested parts of eastern Lane County.
The story noted that those fires were made worse by high temperatures, and the challenges that firefighters have been facing in the steep, difficult terrain where they are burning.
This week, those same fires have continued to grow, forcing additional evacuations and the closure of many popular recreation sites in the Willamette National Forest. And particularly within the McKenzie River Recreation Corridor, where the Lookout Fire, in a 24-hour period last weekend, grew by over a thousand acres.
Already closed are Forest Service campgrounds and the extensive trail system that allows hikers and backpackers to access to the backcountry. Boating access also is not available on the upper McKenzie River at any Forest Service boat ramps.
Businesses are hurting
At press time the Lookout Fire was still 0% contained, and already had an oversized impact on the river economy. There are many “mom-and-pop” businesses on the McKenzie that date back to the early 1900s that also endured the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020, Covid-19 pandemic that peeked in ’21, and now the Lookout Fire burning during what should be the run up to Labor Day.
This is the time when upriver businesses have usually covered their expenses and when they should be collecting profits to carry them through the winter season.
The smoke, because of the relatively calm and stable weather patterns we experienced in the summer, has just “hung around.”
Drifting a bit from east to west, it has made recreating anywhere in the nearby Cascades, on our lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, a less-than-healthy outdoor experience.
Health hazards are real
Multiple air quality advisories are in place throughout Lane County and most of the entire state. The smoke has even drifted, on several days, all the way out to Florence, wafting down the Siuslaw River, past the bay and right down on to the beach.
Historically, mid-August is flush with angling opportunities – trout, bass, fall salmon, summer steelhead – and this summer is no different. But the smokey conditions do create somewhat of a conundrum for outdoors enthusiasts, particularly at a time of the year when summertime activities are on everyone’s agenda.
Ultimately it becomes a personal decision to spend a day fishing or boating while breathing forest fire smoke.
If you choose to venture out, make sure you do so prepared with the most recent alerts and information available. The U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, Lane County, and the Oregon Department of Transportation all provide regular updates on their websites.
Plan to be patient if you do decide to travel from home. With fires also burning near Fall Creek, Oakridge and in other locations, you should be prepared to encounter traffic delays or be asked to yield to the movements of fire fighting equipment and personnel.
We know from medical professionals that forest fire smoke is extremely hazardous to breathe. It contains fine particulates that are difficult for your body to expel and can accumulate in your lungs.
To avoid any longterm damage, plan to take along enough fresh N-95 face masks equal to the number of days you will be in the field.
We are a state blanketed with magnificent forestlands, blessed with great rivers, lakes and we sit on the North American continent alongside the largest ocean in the world.
This is not the type of fishing report I enjoy writing. But I can’t ignore the conditions one will encounter into the fall – particularly if plans are to spend a day on the water or in the field.
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■ Debris burning, smoking, appliances using bottled fuels allowed, fireworks, exploding targets, tracer ammunition or sky lanterns, mowing of dry, cured grass, power saws 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., cutting, welding or grinding 10 .a.m to 8 p.m.
■ Electric fences must be UL approved … No off-road driving, except approved OHV trails.