On the morning of July 20 last summer, I was driving to work on Interstate 205 southbound near Oregon City when I smelled heavy smoke in the air. I thought to myself, “Please don’t tell me Canemah Bluff Nature Park is on fire!”
As I came over the hill, I could see Canemah Bluff across the Willamette River. There was a large column of smoke rising up. As I looked closer, I could see flames on the ground and emergency lights from a fire engine trying to figure out how to get to the fire.
Luckily, our office is just down the road and as I arrived, I grabbed Ryan Jones, my fellow natural resource specialist, and quickly mobilized to go to the incident. Meanwhile, the rest of Metro’s natural areas land management team prepared our fire equipment for transport. Jones and I worked with Clackamas County Fire District #1 to find that a human-caused fire had burned roughly ¼ acre. After Metro’s land management team arrived, we integrated our staff into the fire control efforts.
The team dug a control line to contain the fire and worked hard throughout the day to extinguish the flames and hot spots. Members of the team worked over the weekend to ensure the fire stayed out. The risk of the flames sparking back up were high since temperatures were in the 90s. The team did a great job putting out the fire, and it did not spread any further.
After any wildfire on Metro land, staff works hard to stabilize the soil and restore the area. This usually involves putting in erosion control measures, restoring fire lines back to their pre-fire conditions, seeding the site with native grasses and forbs, and replanting trees and shrubs if necessary. Sometimes we find the best thing to do is nothing. Sometimes letting Mother Nature recover on her own is the best thing we can do. It all depends on the situation and how intense the fire burned.
The Canemah Bluff fire reminded me that, as scary as wildfires are, they’re also part of the natural ecosystem and provide great benefits under the right conditions. Metro conducts prescribed burns at places like Cooper Mountain Nature Park to promote native prairies and oak woodlands, reduce fire danger and manage invasive weeds.
With Canemah Bluff, I remain positive and see nothing but benefits. The area that burned allowed us to have an opportunity for bare soil and to spread native grass and wildflower seed. Next spring the area will turn green, and in the next year or so, you will see a flush of wildflowers that will benefit native pollinators.