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Wahl to Wall: Get tough with those who start fires

Published on September 12, 2017 2:54PM

This was the scene in downtown Enterprise Thursday afternoon when smoke from widlfires blotted out the view of the surrounding mountains.

Paul Wahl/Chieftain

This was the scene in downtown Enterprise Thursday afternoon when smoke from widlfires blotted out the view of the surrounding mountains.

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All of my life, I have heard things described as a “breath of fresh air.” At no point in my life was that saying more real than Saturday morning sitting on a bench at Enterprise Library and feeling the cool breeze wash over me.

After an inordinately hot summer and a highly smoky on, the coolness was beyond description. For the first time in a long time, I inhaled deeply, my lungs not knowing exactly what to do with newly cleaned air.

The fact that things cooled off and the smoke went away as the Hells Canyon Mule Days parade was about to move through Enterprise may or may not have been a coincidence.

The latest round of smoke seemed to peak on Thursday afternoon when the mountains surrounding Wallowa County completely disappeared. The smoke was fed by wildfires across the region, including the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge.

That fire was approaching the 40,000-acre level over the weekend. Sporting events in the area were canceled and outdoor events curtailed for many others. People with breathing conditions stayed inside as much as possible. The rest of us choked and hacked our way through.

The fires sparked even more debate about how forests are being managed in the western United States. Has the cessation of logging meant an unhealthy build-up of fire-prone trees?

It’s not an easy question to answer with exactness, but it bears looking into.

The Eagle Creek fire was apparently started by a child playing with fireworks. Investigators are still on the case, but if this juvenile’s activities are eventually deemed to be the cause, serious punishment must be forthcoming.

Fireworks in the middle of one of the driest summers on record? Really. Hopefully, charges will be pressed against the parents as well for allowing such stupidity.

There has been a burn ban in Wallowa County most of the summer, yet nearly every set of public safety logs that are faxed to us weekly has an incident in which an open fire has to be extinguished by one of our fire departments.

I know there have been incidents in Joseph and Wallowa. I don’t remember seeing one for Enterprise.

I checked in with city administrator Michele Young to see find out what was in store for those who violated the law.

“If our fire department were to be called to put a fire out during a burn ban, we would bill them for the fire department’s call, they would get fined and we would turn it over to ODF,” Young said.

Enterprise is going to look at even more strict rules at a future date, Young told me.

Good for them. I hope the other two cities have equally strong ordinances in place and that scofflaws are dealt with accordingly.

Can you imagine the damage that could be done if one of those fires were to get out of hand?

A bit of rain fell over much of the county Friday night but not nearly enough for the fire ban to be lifted.


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