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Blaze Erupts in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, Threatens Historic Lodge

October 10, 1991

MULTNOMAH FALLS, Ore. (AP) _ A forest fire quickly grew to 1,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge today and threatened the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge.

Embers fell on the 66-year-old lodge, and flames burned above the 620-foot- high Multnomah Falls to the top of the gorge.

At midmorning, the fire jumped a ditch close to the lodge, creating a ″crisis situation,″ said Dave Majors, U.S. Forest Service site manager.

Firefighters were able to keep the flames away, by putting foam on the building, but Majors said it would remain in danger at least through the night as the fire burns through vegetation at the base of the forest.

The fire stretched about two miles to the west to Bridal Veil Falls in an area crisscrossed by hiking trails.

Thick smoke permeated the Oregon side of the gorge, and smoke and ashfall were reported in the Portland suburb of Gresham, 12 miles west of the fire.

The fire was reported about 11:45 p.m. Wednesday by a truck driver who saw three people run out of the woods to the Multnomah Falls parking lot, said Dave Majors, U.S. Forest Service site manager at the fire.

Their vehicle was stopped later by Oregon State Police, he said.

As winds from the east picked up overnight, at least 75 people were evacuated, including the logging community of Bridal Veil, said Bart Whalen of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. The American Red Cross opened a shelter at a community park in Troutdale for evacuees.

Firefighter Glenn Miller said a ″hotshot″ crew that was the first to arrive saved the rustic wood and stone lodge from burning. But, Majors said, ″we’re not out of the dark yet.″ Embers fell on the lodge’s roof overnight, and blackened debris littered the ground within 10 feet of it.

Rick Crittenden, whose house overlooks Bridal Veil Canyon, said firefighters telephoned about 3 a.m. and told him he had five minutes to leave.

His family gathered a few belongings, but Crittenden was more concerned about the loss of beauty in the gorge than his possessions.

″That’s the most important thing. The houses can be rebuilt, but the forest is irreplaceable,″ he said.

The lodge, at the base of the third-highest waterfall in the United States, was built in 1925 by timber baron Simon Benson. He donated it to the city of Portland, which transferred ownership in the 1940s to the federal government.

The lodge houses a restaurant and nature center. Lodge manager Rick Buck said an estimated 2 million people visit Multnomah Falls yearly. ″This is the biggest tourist attraction in the state of Oregon by far,″ he said.

Interstate 84 remained open, but U.S. 30, the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway, was closed between Larch Mountain and Multnomah Falls, the sheriff’s office said.

Steve Pancoast, who lives near Larch Mountain, said he left his house with ″a dog, a lizard, some clothes and my fishing pole.″

″Multnomah Falls took a heck of a bad shot,″ he said. ″That’s a catastrophe. I hope they can save the lodge.″

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