In 2017, my dad and I the 4th of July weekend at our cabin to spend time with my sister, who was living there for the summer. It was the first time we ever took our cat, Marz, with us after 15 years of leaving her at home for fear she'd be eaten by a coyote or swooped off by an owl. I was taking a color film class at Evergreen, and took pictures everywhere we went.
The vacation started off completely normal: my cousins visited for a few days, my sister got to windsurf on her days off, and my dad and I enjoyed traveling around the Gorge a little more than we usually do. Then one night at the dock in Hood River, after a day of swimming, windsurfing, and drinking (great) beer, a dirty-looking cloud began to curl out from behind the mountains and across the sky, creating beautiful sunset colors and a sense of unease.
Over the following few days, the air became so thick with smoke that it stung our eyes and dried our throats. Unsure of what would happen in the days to come, we waited to see if the winds would change or the fire would be controlled. When it hopped the Colombia Gorge–over a mile of water–and became uncontrollable on both sides of the river, we decided to go home. It was impossible for us to escape dangerous air quality at the cabin, and the Gorge's strong winds were only furthering the spread of the fire and increasing its unpredictability.
The Eagle Creek Fire burned over 50,000 acres of forest, threatening countless homes and multiple historic locations (raining ash on others), plummeting air quality for miles, and devastating all plant and animal life in the affected area. It was started on September 2nd by a 15-year-old boy irresponsibly playing with fireworks during one of the hottest and driest times of the year. After three months of dangerous and uncontrollable blaze, the fire was officially declared contained.
The Colombia Gorge is one of the most important railways on the West Coast. Trains frequently bring oil and fracking sands from the Dakotas to the Pacific, although hardly anyone who lives in the area approves. When I was younger, I used to try to count how many cars made up the extremely-long trains: I never succeeded in getting exact numbers, but I estimate the average train carries between fifty to one-hundred fifty cars.
The Oregon side, from the Washington side.
Moonrise over the trees.
My version of a photo everyone takes.
The Colombia River Gorge, looking to the East.
The cloud of smoke that loomed over the Gorge on the evening the fire started.
Smokey sun over a farm in the Trout Lake Valley.
Smoke from the Eagle Creek Fire, stifling the Colombia River Gorge.
Normally a gorgeous view of mountains and rolling hills, it became impossible to see even to the other side of the river.
Color film, scanned & edited.
Colombia River Gorge area, late summer 2017.