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Portland Water Bureau

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GENERAL INFORMATION: 503-823-7404

1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97204

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Frequently Asked Questions on Eagle Creek Fire

Updated: September 15, 2017

Is the Eagle Creek Fire burning in the Bull Run Watershed?
As of Sept. 11, 2017, based on infrared imagery data from Sept. 11, the fire has burned approximately 100 to 150 acres inside the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit, but not inside the actual Bull Run watershed. Protecting the Bull Run is a top priority of the fire response. 

Who is fighting the fire? Does the Portland Water Bureau have a role?
The Portland Water Bureau does not have a direct firefighting role. The bureau works closely with the Unified Command that has been established to manage this fire and provides support to the firefighters working to minimize the harm caused by this fire within the Bull Run and the surrounding community. Unified Command consists of representatives from the Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and local firefighting agencies.

What type of planning has occurred regarding fire management in the Bull Run Watershed?
Ninety-five percent of the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit are federal lands managed by the Mt. Hood National Forest (Forest Service). The Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), and the Portland Water Bureau conduct annual planning to prepare for coordinated responses to fires in the watershed whether they originate on federal lands or on City lands near the drinking water infrastructure.

The Forest Service and ODF are responsible for wildland fire fighting in the watershed and on surrounding lands and the City of Sandy Fire Department provides structural fire protection for Portland Water Bureau structures (buildings) within the watershed.

During large fires like the Eagle Creek Fire, Unified Commands are established by the firefighting agencies (the Forest Service, ODF, and local firefighting agencies) to coordinate resources and firefighting strategies.

The Water Bureau provides support to the Unified Command regarding watershed access and responds to any inquiries or needs from the Unified Command.

How are firefighting decisions made? Who decides how and when to use various firefighting tools?
Professional Incident Commanders—with Unified Command—and fire managers from federal, state, and local firefighting agencies with expertise on wildland firefighting and structural defense decide which firefighting strategy and tactics are used and when.

Can firefighters put water from the Bull Run Reservoirs on the fire?
Through agreement with the Portland Water Bureau, firefighting agencies will only dip (collect large amounts of water with the use of helicopters or aircraft) from the Bull Run Reservoirs—primary storage reservoirs for the drinking water system—after consulting with and gaining approval from the Portland Water Bureau. No requests to dip from the reservoirs have occurred to date. The Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry have existing federal and state authority to dip from other nearby lakes both within and outside the watershed, which are on federal lands and are within federal jurisdiction.  

Has fire retardant been used in the watershed?
No retardant has been used in the Bull Run watershed. Unified Command has reported that air tankers have used retardant to protect cell towers and radio repeaters on Mt. Defiance, outside of the Bull Run watershed. Unified Command had notified the bureau that, if necessary, it will use fire retardant to fight the Eagle Creek Fire in the watershed.

What is fire retardant?
The Forest Service provides detailed information about fire retardants. Detailed information about the components of fire retardant is available at www.fs.fed.us/rm/fire/wfcs/products/index.htm.

Per its website, the U.S. Forest Service evaluates fire retardant and all other fire chemicals for mammalian and aquatic toxicity as well as effectiveness and other characteristics. The results of these tests are available at www.fs.fed.us/rm/fire.

Will the public be informed if fire retardants are used?
Yes, in the event that fire managers determine that retardant use is necessary for the watershed, the Portland Water Bureau will update its website with information as it becomes available.

If fire retardants are used, how will we know if they impact water quality?
The Portland Water Bureau has a plan to test the water for fire retardant constituents, if retardant is used within the watershed. The bureau will collect water samples to look for detections of known components and concentrations.

Does ash from the fires affect the drinking water?
Ash from the fires is not currently a water quality concern. Our drinking water is stored in two large reservoirs in the Bull Run Watershed that currently store approximately 10 billion gallons of water. The amount of ash that fell on water surfaces is diluted by the volume of water in the reservoirs. Also, our water system pulls water from the middle to lower parts of the reservoirs, rather than the surface, for drinking water use. One way to measure the impact of ash on the water is to look at the turbidity or the number of particles in the water.

The Portland Water Bureau has been carefully monitoring the turbidity of the water and has not found any measurable difference since the fire started.

Should I drink bottled water?
No. The water continues to be safe to drink so bottled water is not necessary. The water quality from the Bull Run Watershed has not been impacted by the Eagle Creek Fire. If the fire forces the bureau to shut down the Bull Run, the bureau is prepared to start the Columbia South Shore Well Field to continue to provide safe drinking water.

Is the groundwater system ready to go if we need it?
Yes, Portland’s groundwater system can be activated within just a few hours if needed. Portland is fortunate to have a secondary source of high-quality water that meets all state and federal drinking water regulations.

What happens if water can no longer be used from Bull Run?
While this is unlikely to happen, Portland is fortunate to have a second high-quality source in the Columbia South Shore Well Field. This secondary source can meet base demands. Should the Portland service area need to rely on groundwater only, depending on demand, the bureau would also request that customers voluntarily reduce water use.

What impact would an intense fire have on the Bull Run watershed?
A fire that burns intensely could be devastating to water quality in the Bull Run. Rains following a fire can cause erosion that would bring high volumes of sediment into the source water. Portland has a secondary source of high-quality water that meets all state and federal drinking water regulations. Groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field has historically been used as a substitute for Bull Run water during past turbidity events and would continue to do so after a fire. Portland’s groundwater system can be activated within just a few hours if needed.

The Portland Water Bureau’s priority immediately after a fire is watershed health. In every intense fire, specially trained professionals led by the U.S. Forest Service will form a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team to evaluate the area, post-incident, and develop a restoration strategy. 

Is there a map available of the fire?
Yes, you can view the most recent fire perimeter map here.

Where can I find more information?
For the latest updates on the Eagle Creek Fire, please visit the following sites:

Inciweb: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5584/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EagleCreekandIndianCreekFires2017/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/eaglecreekfire

Highway Closures: https://www.tripcheck.com

Oregon Smoke Information: https://oregonsmoke.blogspot.com/

Multnomah County Sheriff Flash Alert https://flashalert.net/id/MCSO/107579?alert=1

Hood River County Sheriff http://www.hoodriversheriff.com

For information on incident management team strategies and tactics, visit the National Fire Interagency Center’s website at www.nifc.gov.

To get more information on the health effects of fire retardants and ash, call the Multnomah County Health Department at 503-502-2741.

For water quality questions, you can call the Water Line at 503-823-7525 or email WBWaterLine@portlandoregon.gov (staffed 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday­­–Friday)

Click this link for the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit Fire Management Plan.