Safety Tips for Burned Areas
The Gorge has a complex history involving volcanic lava flows, ice‐age floods, tectonic plate collisions, and other dynamic geologic processes. The steep slopes and rock walls that make the Gorge so beautiful also make it prone to landslides, and landslides, rockfalls, and debris flows are not unusual here. In 2017, Eagle Creek Fire increased likelihood of landslides, mudslides, flash floods, and debris flows. Hikers ALWAYS assume risks when entering trails in natural areas, but in burned areas those risks are greater. Your safety is in your hands!
Below are some tips for minimizing your exposure to natural hazards.
1. Learn the Risks
Risks in burned areas include falling trees and limbs, uneven/unstable ground full of holes from burned root systems, falling rocks, difficulty navigating through sections of trail, and possible landslides, debris flows, and flash floods. These are elevated during high winds, and during and after heavy rains and winter storms.
2. Know Your Route
Plan your hike and hike your plan!
Bring a quality map showing topography and natural features and a compass AND/OR a proper GPS unit that you know how to use. We don't recommend using your phone for navigation, as it is also your lifeline in an emergency and the batteries can run out when things don't go according to plan. Cross check your route against maps of the burned area so you know more about what to expect. For example, Eagle, Tanner, Moffett, McCord, Horsetail and Oneonta drainages were particularly hard hit (see the USGS Eagle Creek Fire Debris Flow Risk map).
3. Check the Weather Before Heading Out
Weather is a major trigger for hazards. Check the 48-hour weather outlook before heading out. Here's what to watch for...
- HIGH WIND knocks down standing dead trees ("snags") and branches ("widow-makers"), creating serious risks for those on hiking trails. If high or gusty winds are forecasted, DON’T GO INTO A BURNED AREA.
- MAJOR STORMS including rain or snow can trigger flash floods, landslides, and debris flows. The Gorge's steep slopes remain unstable, with increased risks of landslides and debris flows for a FEW DAYS AFTER a major storm.
For weather in the west Gorge (which includes the burned area), check: weather.gov/Portland Consider submitting a weather report to pay it forward - photos are very helpful. Submit via Twitter @NWSPortland or at www.wrh.noaa.gov/pqr/skywarn.php.
4. Phone a Friend
It's always better to hike with a partner! You should also leave a trip plan with family or friends that includes:
- Location of your car.
- Planned hiking route, and any possible alternative.
- Your expected return time.
- Cell phone number and service provider.
5. Sign up for Alerts
This is particularly important for Gorge residents but applies to all those visiting the vicinity of the burned area, between Corbett and Cascade Locks. Sign up to receive emergency alerts You can also follow county emergency managers on social media:
- Multnomah County Office of Emergency Management - Twitter @MultCoEM
- Hood River County Department of Emergency Management - Twitter @HRCEmergencyMgt
More educational resources for Gorge residents:
- A letter from Multnomah County Emergency Management to homeowners in areas impacted by the Eagle Creek Fire (145.56 KB)
- A homeowner’s guide to landslides (3.27 MB)
- Prepare: A resource guide from the American Red Cross Cascades Region (1008.91 KB)
6. Pack the Essentials
Hikers should carry the 10 Essential Systems: navigation, insulation, illumination, emergency shelter, first aid supplies, water, fire, repair kit and tools, nutrition, and a form of communication.
7. Stay on Established Trails
Only official National Forest System and state park trails have been repaired and stabilized in the Eagle Creek Fire burned area. Check this map and list of trails to see if the trail you're planning to hike has been reopened. If trail signs are missing or downed trees and landslides make it hard to follow the trail, stick within your comfort level with navigating through natural areas. TURN BACK IF NECESSARY.
8. Look and Listen for Hazards
While in a burned area, SCAN for overhead hazards. LISTEN for falling trees, limbs, and rocks. WATCH OUT for stump holes and increased stream flows.
9. Know When to Turn Around
The trails and areas that remain closed are among the worst hit by the fire and include extreme post-fire hazards. RESPECT signs, barriers, and fences and turn around when you encounter closed areas. Please remember that entering closed areas creates risks for others, such as first responders. If wind picks up while in an area, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.
10. Don't Panic if You Get Lost
If you realize you are lost and your surroundings are safe, STOP where you are. Refer to your map or GPS to attempt to figure out where you are. Do not leave a trail or road, because they increase your chance of being found. If you have cell phone reception, CALL 911. Have the dispatcher attempt to get a GPS location from your phone, which means staying on the phone at least 2-3 minutes. At this point, restrict your phone use to essential calls -- use text messages instead. Don't use your phone as a flashlight -- this will drain the battery, and you may need it later. Stay warm by adding layers from your pack. If you need to survive for several days, build a visible shelter and depending on the season and fire restrictions, you may need to build a fire.
Help us spread the word!
Download these tips in our Know Before you Go Flier (English, pdf)
Return to the Eagle Creek Fire Response landing page.