PORTLAND — All recreation and public access is temporarily off limits on Mount Hood, as wildfires continue to burn around Oregon’s tallest peak.
The Mount Hood National Forest announced a forest-wide closure Tuesday, due to “the threat of unprecedented and dangerous fire conditions,” caused by widespread heat and dryness, and unusually high winds that whipped across the region Monday and Tuesday.
“At this time, with extreme fire danger, multiple wildfires growing, and new wildfires igniting and multiple evacuations, it’s simply not safe to visit,” forest supervisor Richard Periman said in a news release Tuesday.
The closure applies to all forms of recreation, including hiking, boating and camping, on all forest lands on Mount Hood. The Willamette National Forest issued a similar forest-wide closure Tuesday.
Campgrounds and hiking trails on Mount Hood were evacuated safely, and visitors are currently out of the national forest or making their way out, spokeswoman Heather Ibsen said Wednesday.
Timberline Lodge on Wednesday said that it would suspend all outdoor operations and close its day lodge, as the hotel remains open for current guests and those with existing reservations. Mount Hood Skibowl closed to the public Wednesday, but said it planned to reopen on Thursday. Mount Hood Meadows remains closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Portland General Electric cut off power to some customers on Mount Hood on Monday night as a precaution against electrical caused wildfires, and said customers could be without power for 24 to 48 hours. Unplanned outages caused by high winds and fallen trees also plagued the area. On Wednesday, more than 6,000 customers near Mount Hood were without power, according to Portland General Electric’s outages map.
As of Wednesday morning, there were three wildfires actively burning in the Mount Hood National Forest. The biggest is the Riverside fire, which started near the Riverside campground along the Clackamas River and increased quickly Tuesday, growing to more than 20,000 acres overnight.
The other two fires in the national forest are less concerning, Ibsen said. The White River fire, which started Aug. 17 and grew to more than 17,000 acres, is now 70% contained. The Hood Meadows fire, found burning near a ski area on the southeast flank of the mountain Monday, is now less than two acres in size.
But the dangerous weather conditions mean that even small fires can erupt into major catastrophes. The Beachie Creek fire, located just south of Mount Hood in the Willamette National Forest, smoldered for three weeks at only about 10 acres before the high winds Monday fanned it into an inferno.
As of Wednesday morning, the Beachie Creek fire had burned more than 132,000 acres, destroyed several houses and businesses, and poured thick smoke into Salem and the surrounding area. Officials don’t expect to contain the fire until the end of October.
The fear that fires near Mount Hood could erupt – or that new fires could yet ignite – have forest officials wary of offering any estimates on when recreation will reopen.
“We’re evaluating it every day,” Ibsen said. “Once we get through this weekend, we’ll be in a better place to see where this stands.”