The Cove is Open for Labor Day Weekend
Saturday, August 29, 2015 was the day of a fast moving, wind driven wildfire that sent campers, staff workers, neighbors and wildlife scurrying to safety at the Crooked River Campground located near Lake Billy Chinook. Thanks go out to all of the people who helped fight the fire – Oregon State Park Ranger Staff, Neighbors, Volunteers, Fire Crews from around Central Oregon and local law enforcement .
“All park staff and volunteers that day performed above and beyond the call of duty, and they did it without hesitation,” said Park Manager David Slaght. “They looked out for each other, and no one was hurt. I am so very proud of them all.” Slaght was at home with his family Saturday morning when he got the call that a fire had broken out in the Crooked River Campground (E Loop). He raced to the park, arriving at the same time as a few neighboring farmers driving trucks with water pumps. Together with staff they started building a fire line. “We laid sprinklers and hose line wherever we could to keep the fire from the campground — and we were successful,” Slaght said. Staff and neighbors worked together to protect the campground and neighboring homes until fire crews arrived. Some 20-plus employees and volunteers — including several of the park’s student workers — laid sprinklers and hose line, dug fire line, directed traffic, and helped people evacuate from more than 70 occupied campsites in E Loop. Wind worked against them with gusts up to 60 mph that broke tree limbs and caused the fire to jump and change directions multiple times. A few campers were not able to evacuate E Loop before the flames reached the road, and seasonal park staff kept them in a protected southwest area for several hours until it was safe to exit. Slaght said, many staff and hosts deserve medals of honor for their efforts that day. He made special mention of the leadership role taken on by seasonal park ranger Lisa Stevenson, who has 16 years of experience as a firefighter in California. “Lisa and her team started the evacuation and literally saved a family from being burned. Her quick thinking and past firefighter experience made the true difference in this devastating fire,” Slaght said.
Fire Chief Brian Huff pulled all local resources and requested mutual aid from every Central Oregon fire department. Emergency First Responders from Jefferson County Fire and Sheriff, Culver Fire, Warm Springs, Oregon State Police, Bureau of Land Management, 3 Rivers, Crook County Fire and Rescue, La Pine Fire, Oregon Department of Forestry, Sunriver Fire and Rescue, Sisters Camp Sherman Fire, and Cloverdale Fire District, (I apologize to any agencies that I didn’t see) battled extreme fire behavior for hours on Saturday and Sunday. It was incredible how fast the fire moved; wind gusts up to 60 MPH, erratically changing directions along with steep, rocky terrain made fighting it difficult.
The cause of the fire was determined to have originated from charcoal briquettes which were not completely extinguished. The accident has prompted Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to review operational and public safety protocols, said Director Lisa Sumption.
Park staff spent the week installing caution tape and warning signs to keep visitors out of hazardous areas. We’ve been irrigating daily to prevent flare-ups, and firefighters continue to scout the area and put out hotspots.
As campers pull into a fully-booked Cove Palisades campground this Labor Day weekend, they will see a green oasis surrounded by a charred landscape. Saturday’s 280-acre fire at The Cove left the campground miraculously untouched. The scene is a testament to an incredible team effort at The Cove to protect visitors and the park.
Open flames, candles, tiki torches, and/or charcoal briquettes are banned in all Oregon State Parks east of the Cascades. While campfires may be part of Labor Day camp-out traditions, they simply are not safe right now.