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Camp Creek Fire creeps closer to Portland’s water supply, but cooler weather is helping

Firefighters in initial attack on Camp Creek Fire, on August 25, 2023.
Courtesy of Inciweb
Firefighters in initial attack on Camp Creek Fire, on August 25, 2023.

People fighting the now-1,600-acre Camp Creek Fire in theBull Run watershed and reservoir complexsaid Monday that cooler weather is giving them a break.

Lightning sparked the fire last week in the forested area about 25 miles east of Portland. The fire is burning just south of the Bull Run reservoir complex, which provides drinking water to almost a quarter of all Oregonians.

The first grew over the weekend and remained uncontained Monday morning. But Matt Call with the Great Basin Fire management team said cooler, wetter weather is slowing the fire and letting crews fight it more efficiently.

“The moisture is going to slow the fire down quite a bit,” he said. “But it’s not going to put it out.”

The Bull Run watershed is home to old-growth forest, meaning there’s a lot of organic matter on the ground to burn. That increases the challenge for firefighters and produces more smoke than a fire of this size might typically. Portland Water Bureau officials said there’s no reason to worry about water quality in the watershed or its reservoirs right now. Fire officials have said they expect the fire to continue to grow.

The watershed is on 100 square miles of protected federal forest south of the Columbia River Gorge. It is the primary source of drinking water for Portland and many of its largest suburbs. The Eagle Creek Fire reached the watershed in 2017, but the reservoir infrastructure was not impacted.

Portland has backup groundwater wells it uses when Bull Run water is not available.

This story will be updated.
Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a veteran journalist/producer working for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He started as a cub reporter for newspapers in London, England in 1988. Then in 1991 he moved to Oregon and started freelancing. His work has appeared in publications as varied as The Oregonian, the BBC, the Salem Statesman Journal, Willamette Week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR and the Voice of America. Kristian has won awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. He was embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq in 2004 and now specializes in business, law, health and politics.