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Eagle Creek Fire Forces Early Release Of Juvenile Fish At Bonneville Hatchery
Posted on Friday, September 08, 2017 (PST)

A fouled water supply caused by the Eagle Creek fire near Bonneville Dam and three Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries in the Columbia River Gorge has forced the state agency to release some tule fall chinook six months early, as well as other chinook from four ponds, which were to be released next month. The total early release amounts to about 600,000 juveniles.


The three hatcheries – Bonneville, Cascade and Oxbow hatcheries, all located in Cascade Locks and operated by ODFW – were evacuated over Labor Day weekend soon after the fire started late Saturday afternoon, Sept. 2. All the releases were from the Bonneville Hatchery. Altogether, the hatcheries rear about 6 million juveniles.


Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Sunday invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act in response to the fire, located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. At the time of the declaration, according to Brown’s office, the town of Cascade Locks was under a level-2 evacuation and the Oxbow Hatchery was at level 3. Evacuation is mandatory at level 3.


“Crews are deployed throughout Oregon fighting some of the most intense wildfires in the nation,” Brown said. “The swift action of the fire crews responding to the Eagle Creek Fire and heroic efforts of our Oregon National Guard saved lives, and I thank the crews still on the front lines who are working actively to contain the fire.”


As of Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 6, the fire had spread from 3,000 acres on Sunday when Brown made the declaration to over 33,000 acres by Thursday afternoon and was reported to be five percent contained. Tuesday, winds carried cinders across the Columbia River to the Washington shore. Firefighters continue to fight blazes in both states.


Both the Interstate 84 highway along the Oregon shore and state route 14 on the Washington shore had been closed to all traffic due to the fire. That made delivery of juvenile salmon collected and trucked from Little Goose and Lower Monumental dams on the lower Snake River impossible. The juvenile chinook salmon had been collected at the dams and were to be trucked to a release point either downstream of Bonneville Dam or at Dodson Boat Ramp, an alternative release site.


Trucking is a part of a transportation program required by the Columbia/Snake River hydroelectric system biological opinion for salmon and steelhead. That being impossible this week, the fish were released into the lower Snake River. The two dams switched from collection to secondary bypass until the release sites below Bonneville Dam are restored, according to a September 5 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers memo. Parts of I-84 are expected to remain closed through this weekend.


The Bonneville Power Administration said in a news release that it had lost one 115-kilovolt line to the fire – the North Bonneville-Hood River line – and that a 500-kv line had briefly tripped off due to smoke. A map of Northwest fires in relation to BPA facilities is at However, BPA said it has a “robust” system and that no customers have lost power.


Michelle Helms of the Corps, which owns the Bonneville Hatchery, although it is operated by ODFW, said Bonneville Dam is safe, but that the shipping locks are only open for emergency use.


Helms added that the fire has not caused any variation in hydropower operations at the dam and spill was stopped September 1 in accordance with the fish passage plan.


The U.S. Coast Guard shut down the Columbia River to river traffic in the 20 miles from Corbett to the dam due to the fire, deeming the area from Reed Island to Bonneville Dam too hazardous for boating. Some commercial river traffic is allowed. The river is being used as a source of water for airborne firefighters, according to the Coast Guard.


ODFW said that its staff at the three hatcheries is safe. A small number of staff has returned to monitor the facilities and the fish, the agency said in a news release.


“The safety of our staff and the public is always our first priority,” said Bruce Eddy, ODFW East Region Administrator.


Some 153 day hikers on the Eagle Creek Trail became trapped after the fire started and some had to spend the night near Tunnel Falls until the Oregon National Guard could rescue them. All are safe and accounted for, according to the Governor’s office.


Over the weekend, the three hatcheries served as a staging area and place for family members to reunite with some of the hikers trapped by the fire. Firefighters continue to use the three hatcheries as staging and firefighting areas. Supplies at the hatcheries, as well as water and power, are also helping firefighting efforts, ODFW said.


“We are relieved that the hikers made it out safely and wish them and their families well,” Eddy said.


Firefighters foamed some hatchery buildings to keep them from catching fire, and cut a firebreak and lit a backfire above the Cascade Hatchery to keep the fire from reaching the facility. At this time, no structures at the three hatchery facilities have been damaged by fire, but the situation remains serious, ODFW said.


The early release of the fish from the Bonneville Hatchery was to reduce demands on the water supply and equipment, ODFW added. Fall chinook from four ponds that were scheduled for release in October were released Monday night and another 600,000 tule fall chinook scheduled for release next March were released Tuesday morning. Both releases were made into the Columbia River.


“Water flow to the Bonneville Hatchery was restricted by fire debris in the hatchery intakes, and there was no way to clear the intake,” said Eddy. “Pumps not down for maintenance are being used to supply the facility now.”


ODFW spokesperson Michelle Dennehy said late Wednesday that the Bonneville Hatchery is currently running on well water and that the remaining juvenile fish in the ponds are healthy and water flows are good.


Power is out at the Cascade Hatchery, also as of Wednesday evening. However, an emergency generator is powering necessary electrical equipment – flow is not dependent on pumps, she said – and the hatchery has a one-week supply of fuel for the generators.


A fire line was built around the Oxbow Hatchery, she said, and firefighters had planned to back burn areas around the hatchery to provide a buffer.


ODFW has identified space at its other hatcheries around the state to temporarily hold much of the remaining fish if they the agency needs to move the fish and if conditions and time allow staff to load fish trucks. Fish liberation truck drivers have been notified that they could get a call to respond to “emergency evacuations of fish stocks from any and all hatcheries at any hour of the day or night die to the threat of wildfire,” Dennehy said.


Currently the facilities are rearing six million fish (mainly coho and chinook salmon). Bonneville Hatchery is also home to the Sturgeon Viewing Interpretive Center where Herman the Sturgeon is doing fine, ODFW said.


Oxbow hatchery, a Mitchell Act hatchery, is used for interim egg incubation and early rearing of coho, spring chinook and sockeye salmon, as well as winter steelhead. No adult fish are collected or spawned at the hatchery. Upper and Lower Herman Creek Ponds are used as interim rearing sites for coho transferred in from other facilities.


Also a Mitchell Act facility, the Bonneville Hatchery, ODFW’s largest, raises chinook and coho salmon, along with summer and winter steelhead, and serves as a broodstock facility for the Grand Ronde Basin spring chinook supplementation program.


The Cascade Hatchery, also a Mitchell Act hatchery, is used for egg incubation and rearing of coho salmon.


The cause of the fire is man-made, possibly due to the misuse of fireworks, according to the Governor’s office.


Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced Thursday night that funding to help cover the cost of fighting the devastating wildfires that are currently burning in Oregon is included the disaster and government funding bill that passed Congress today.


The agreement secured in the funding bill will ensure that the Forest Service and other agencies will be able to retroactively cover the remaining costs of fighting fires for the 2017 fire season, which is on track to reach $300 million beyond the previously-set firefighting budget for 2017. Without the guarantee of this funding, agencies would soon have to switch over to “fire borrowing” – the practice of raiding other programs, including hazardous fuels reduction and fire prevention, to fund the cost of wildfire suppression.


Currently, Oregon’s Chetco Bar fire, which started July 12, has consumed more than 177,000 acres in Curry and Josephine counties in southwest Oregon. The fire is 5 percent contained and some estimate it will not be fully contained until the end of October. Those counties, along with Jackson County, have been inundated by smoke for nearly a month. To make matters worse, there are 23 other Oregon fires, including the Eagle Creek fire that is throwing ash and smoke over the Portland metro area and Columbia River Gorge communities. In total, these fires have burned over 340,000 acres to date.


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