Despite dangerous conditions, trespassers continue to venture into areas of the Columbia River Gorge closed after the Eagle Creek Fire.
Authorities in Oregon have handed out $280 trespassing citations to 49 people and let hundreds go with a warning, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported this week.
The fire, allegedly set by a Vancouver teen, burned nearly 77 square miles, mostly on the Oregon side of the river. The early September blaze forced evacuations, caused an extended shutdown of Interstate 84 and choked Portland and Vancouver with smoke and ash.
Many popular trails and landmarks remain closed.
Half of the citations were issued after the Multnomah Falls Lodge reopened in late November. Authorities put up a fence and closed off trails before reopening the tourist attraction. But the fence has not stopped some from trekking to a lower viewing platform to look at the falls, said Rachel Pawlitz, spokeswoman for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Authorities have verbally warned almost 600 people about trespassing since Sept. 19, according to numbers provided Wednesday by Pawlitz.
Other hot spots for trespassers include Eagle Creek and Larch Mountain on the Oregon side of the river, she added.
Although the fire is 100 percent contained, Pawlitz said authorities saw smoldering stumps as recently as December.
Hazards such as landslides, falling trees and tumbling rocks exist. There are also logjams that have formed on the streams and above waterfalls that can bursts and flash flood or rockfall threats, Pawlitz said.
Search and rescue efforts would be expensive and dangerous. In fact, the area is considered so dangerous that the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s Green Hornet trail rescue team has yet to train there, said Lt. Marc Shrake, the agency’s spokesman.
The lower Multnomah Falls viewing platform is expected to reopen early this year and the Benson Bridge may be reopen in the summer. But some trails at the center of the burn could be closed for up to five years, Pawlitz said.
Suspect gets court date
Meanwhile, a court date has been set for the Vancouver boy accused of starting the fire.
The 15-year-old, whose name has not been released, is expected to enter a plea to the charges on Feb. 16 in Hood River, Ore.
He was charged in October with reckless burning, depositing burning materials on forest lands, criminal mischief and recklessly endangering other persons.
Witnesses had seen the boy tossing fireworks into a ravine before the fire began.