Portland officials monitor wildfire near water source as large blazes rage elsewhere in state

Gov. Tina Kotek declared conflagrations this month for fires in Lane, Douglas and Josephine counties

By: - August 29, 2023 5:22 pm
Firefighter battles the Lookout Fire in Lane County

A firefighter battles the Lookout Fire in Lane County on Aug. 24, 2023. It has spread to more than 22,000 acres, with Level 3, or go now, evacuation orders in place for some residents. (Courtesy of inciweb)

The Camp Creek wildfire near Bull Run reservoirs east of Portland spread in recent days but the water remains safe, Portland officials said Tuesday.

The Portland Water Bureau said in a news release that it continues to monitor the fire and that weather conditions are currently favorable though that could change.

“Fire in the watershed always poses a risk to our water supply, and weather conditions can change quickly,” the bureau said in a release. “We’re developing multiple contingency plans, so we are prepared in the event we are forced to evacuate staff from the watershed.”

The Camp Creek Fire is just over 1 mile from a Bull Run reservoir and about 2 miles from the Water Bureau’s treatment facility, which treats water for 1 million people. If the fire threatens the plant, forcing evacuations and the closure of the facility, the water would become unsafe and officials would have to switch to groundwater. The agency said those supplies are secure but are not abundant enough for the full range of summertime uses. 

Possible restrictions

The Portland Water Bureau urged area residents to be prepared for a possible shut off of Bull Run water. If that happens, officials will ask residents to curtail outdoor uses, including watering gardens and lawns, and to conserve indoor use as much as possible.

Follow the water bureau on X (Twitter) or Facebook or go to its website Portland.gov/water for the latest updates.

“The Bull Run watershed is the backbone of the Portland metro area water supply, and the Camp Creek Fire is distressing to all of us,” said Gabriel Solmer, Water Bureau director. ”If the fire were to put the supply at risk, we may need to rely only on our limited groundwater, which can’t meet all our current summer demand. Should we get to that position, we will ask for the help of all water users to reduce their water use.” 

Lightning sparked the fire last Thursday. It has spread to 1,600 acres and is 0% contained. With cooler weather, there has been modest growth in recent days, and firefighters are focusing on protecting the treatment plant. Managers have brought in extra firefighters, engines and heavy equipment, with about 250 personnel now on the scene, according to Tuesday’s update. Firefighters are working around the clock, monitoring the fire even at night for increased activity. A drone system and crew expected to arrive on site later this week.

Fire managers plan a second community meeting, this time on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Columbia Grange at 37493 NE Grange Hall Road in Corbett. The meeting also will be livestreamed on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/campcreekfire

The Camp Creek Fire northeast of Sandy is shown in red. (Courtesy of inciweb)

The fire is among a dozen large blazes burning in Oregon, with one group of fires on the Oregon-California border. 

On Friday, Gov. Tina Kotek invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act for the Tyee Ridge Complex of fires, allowing the Oregon State Fire Marshal to mobilize resources to protect homes and residents. There are 14 fires in the complex, located 10 miles west of Sutherlin in Douglas County, and they span nearly 2,900 acres. The fires also were sparked by lightning last Thursday and are 5% contained.

Level 3 evacuation orders are in place for some homes. It’s unclear how many residents are affected by the order, which means residents have to leave immediately. Lower level evacuation orders – Level 1 and 2 – are in place for other areas.

On Monday, Kotek invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act for the Smith River Complex of nearly 30 fires straddling the western Oregon-California border. As of Tuesday, the lightning-sparked fires had spread to nearly 74,000 areas and were 7% contained. Josephine County in Oregon and Del Norte County in California have ordered some residents to leave, and the American Red Cross has opened shelters at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass and at the Del Norte County Fairgrounds.

And on Aug. 13, Kotek declared a conflagration for the Lookout Fire in the Willamette National Forest in Lane County, where some residents had to evacuate. As of the latest update on Saturday, it had spread to more than 22,000 acres and was 17% contained.



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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.