First responders say they continue to deploy law enforcement and search and rescue teams to rescue hikers entering closed-off areas of the Columbia River Gorge that were damaged in the Eagle Creek Fire.
The U.S. Forest Service says responders continue to be placed at great risk rescuing hikers who ignore barricades and signage in burn-affected areas still at risk of landslides, rockfall and falling trees.
“Those who choose to trespass into closed areas face potential criminal charges, and the safety of volunteers will be weighed first when considering Search and Rescue response for those who become injured or lost,” said Deputy Joel Ives with the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office in a statement.
The Multnomah County Sheriff's search and rescue team was deployed as recently as Wednesday, when two hikers who jumped a barrier ended up lost in the Angel's Rest area.
In a separate event on Feb. 10, the Hood River County Sheriff's office cited three juveniles for criminal trespass for hiking in the closed Herman Creek area. The hikers also ended up lost.
Criminal trespass is a misdemeanor in Oregon, and possible sentences include probation and even jail time.
More than 100 areas of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area remain closed as a result of the Eagle Creek Fire, including popular trails such as Angel's Rest and Larch Mountain. Most closures are in place until further notice, though officials are already anticipating an increase in Gorge visits as spring approaches.
"Visitors need to respect signs and barricades blocking entry to the closed areas," the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement. "Falling rocks, trees and other debris remain a threat and crews from multiple agencies are working to safely reopen the area closed by the fire."
Multnomah Falls Lodge, which re-opened in November, only partially opened due to ongoing efforts to remove damaged vegetation. Even then, officials noticed people entering the closed area at the foot of the waterfall to take selfies.
The Eagle Creek Fire, which began Sept. 2, spanned nearly 49,000 acres of the Gorge. The 15-year-old boy charged with lobbing a firecracker into the Gorge and igniting the fire pleaded guilty in February. He was sentenced to five years probation and nearly 2,000 hours of community service.