Lecture: “Wildfire in the Gorge: The Good, the Bad, and Lessons from Eagle Creek”

by | SOP 13

Lecture Description

Each summer, the devastating effects of wildfire across the western U.S. dominate news headlines as warmer temperatures, prolonged drought, and lengthier fire seasons contribute to exceptionally high fire risk. In recent decades, the frequency of large wildfires has increased, and new maximums for the scale, speed, and severity of wildfires have been set. Still, the occurrence of wildfire is more nuanced than most news headlines would have us believe. Fire is an important part of maintaining healthy, diverse ecosystems. Wildfires release valuable nutrients into the soil, initiate re-birth, and provide a habitat for fire-dependent plant and animal species.

In 2017, the Eagle Creek fire ripped through over 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge. It was the largest fire in the Gorge in the past century. Smoke filled the air as forests burned, residents were evacuated, highways closed, and businesses shut down. Five years later, what can we learn from this historic event? How has it affected our local landscapes, communities, and fire management practices? And as wildfire becomes increasingly common in the Gorge, how can we better understand its costs and benefits, as well as how to coexist with this incredible force of nature?

Speaker Bios

Jessica Hudec started her U.S. Forest Service career in 2003 as a wildland firefighter and spent the following 11 years working in fire management. In 2011, Jessica completed a Master of Science degree in Forest Resources with a focus on fire ecology at the University of Washington. Jessica shifted her career path in 2014 when she accepted a position as Forest Ecologist, stationed in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Jessica brings a particular interest in fire ecology to her current role, and she continues to participate in wildland fire management as a long-term fire analyst, fire effects monitor, and incident commander, among other roles.

Loretta Duke is the Fire Management Officer for the South Zone of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. She started her career in wildfire as a member of the Logan (Utah) Hotshots crew in 1989 and moved on to the North Cascades National Park to work on fuels management in 1993, eventually becoming the Assistant Fire Management Officer. In that role, she supervised Engine Captains and Hand Crew Captains, as well as served as the training officer for the unit. On September 3, 2017, one day after the Eagle Creek Fire was started, Loretta served as the Initial Attack Incident Commander. She later became the Division Supervisor of Eagle Creek Fire and also worked as a Duty Officer responsible for sending resources to other fires under initial attack.

Dr. Brian J. Harvey is the Principal Investigator at the Harvey Lab of the University of Washington and the Jack Corkery and George Corkery Jr. Endowed Professor in Forest Sciences and Assistant Professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences in the College of the Environment at the University of Washington. His research focuses on understanding the nature of forest disturbances (e.g., fires and insect outbreaks) – and how forest structure and function is shaped by disturbances, interactions among disturbances, and climate. Dr. Harvey’s work emphasizes field studies that are integrated with large spatial datasets and analyses, drawing on insights from landscape ecology and community ecology. Over the last 10 years, he has conducted research on the disturbance ecology of forests in coastal California, the US Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest. Prior to pursuing a career in research, Dr. Harvey worked in the private sector as an environmental consultant and project manager. In addition to his research at UW, he teaches graduate- and undergraduate-level courses in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.


Oregon Air Quality Network
You can view a map of the monitors by visiting this website. Oregon State University received a $10,000 grant from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, which was used to purchase ten air quality monitors placed at schools and orchard sites across Hood River and Wasco County.

Columbia Gorge Community Response Plan Listening Session
OSU received $80,000 from Oregon DEQ to develop a Community Response Plan for Wildfire smoke. This plan will help us identify how best to communicate with people in our region during smoke events. This form is the registration for the Community Listening Session for folks to share their feedback and input on February 3rd, 2023, from 12:00 pm-1:30 pm.