First Time Working In A Utility Co. Park – Fire and Rain

Disclaimer: The company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy. I will not be mentioning them by name, or mentioning the specific names of anyone I am working with, except for Lee.  Also, because it’s not really that difficult to figure out which company it is, I want to be clear: I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part.  

Thursday I was back to work and thankfully it was a slow day.  I didn’t feel any discomfort at all, but wanted to make sure I didn’t overdue it, so I focused on detailed litter pickup as my “extra task” for the day.  When we have slow days we try to fill in our time with extra tasks.  They include maintenance, hanging signs, watering trees, spraying our bathrooms, and putting water in the pit toilets.   Although we pick up big litter as part of our daily duties, on occasion a detailed walk through is called for.

It’s surprising how much litter can “hide” in the vegetation surrounding the parking lots, so walking slow and really looking hard at the details is called for.  I walked Moore Creek and Hole-In-The-Wall (our main river sites) and ended up with a bucket full of small trash.  Since the temperatures were much cooler, this wasn’t an unpleasant thing to do and it feels nice to look over an area after it is complete.  Lee worked in the campground on Thursday and he ended up having a very busy day.  One large group had rented the entire campground starting on Friday and there were numerous checkouts along with additional cleaning at the day use areas.

I was excited because Friday I was going to get to work in the office for the first time.  One of the office people flew up to Alaska for the weekend for a wedding (people do that here in Oregon, you can fly round trip to Anchorage from Portland for $250!) and I had volunteered to cover some of her hours.  I had spent a couple hours training the last two Mondays and felt pretty confident about my ability to handle what was thrown at me.  Plus, since only one large group was checking in, it was going to be an easier day, which turned out to to be a good thing because I was surprised by how busy the phones were. I opened the office at 10am and before I even had money in the drawer had my first walk up.  They were interested in extending (which unfortunately we could not accommodate due to the large group) and we were off tho the races from there.

For the next two hours the phone was ringing and folks were stopping by wanting to see the campground or see if we had any openings and things were in general pretty excited.  It did slow down after a couple of hour, but I spent the rest of my time making courtesy calls to upcoming reservations between answering incoming calls.  Not kidding, three times I picked up the phone to make a call and someone was already on the line.  Like I said it was fun though and as I told my supervisor when he called to check on me later in the day, “It beats cleaning toilets lol.”  Really it was nice to do something else and I very much appreciated how the other office person stayed available and was very helpful to me.

Lee and I also got some alone time, because I worked 10am -3pm and Lee worked 3pm – 9:30pm, with me joining him at 7:30pm to help close the gates.  I know I have mentioned it before, but we are spending a LOT of time together and having some time apart was really nice for both of us.  He had a very nice day working the river sites and was even able to help a couple with small kids who were biking in the area and looking for a place to camp.  Lee’s a big softie when it comes to little kids and thankfully he helped them find a place to stay.  I can’t imagine heading out from Portland on bikes with two kids in tow and no firm place to camp for the night, but obviously people do it, and although I appreciate their adventuresome spirit, the mom in me cringes at the thought.  Thankfully he was able to find them a place and made sure they both made it there.  What folks don’t really get about this area is that outside of Estacada there is zero cell service.  So if you are winging it, and your first choice doesn’t work out, you can’t just start calling other places.  We run into this all the time with folks who are looking for a last minute campsite or more commonly made arrangements to meet friends and then can’t find them.  Phones are such an omnipresent part of all of our lives now you don’t really think about not having them, and folks come out here and when they run into difficulty are a little lost.  We do what we can, when we can, but we don’t have cell coverage on the road either and usually there isn’t a lot that we can do.  Thankfully in this case, Lee was able to help.

Saturday we were a little worried about because there was a big event down at the main marina and some of the boat trailer spaces would be taken by the event.  On hot weekends both the main marina and ours have been maxxed out with boat trailers, and losing parking spaces was a serious concern. Luckily one of our fellow camphosts got involved in the marina event early on and he made sure the boat trailers who usually go there parked in the campground overflow parking lot.  This stopped many of them from going down river to our marina and definitely helped with traffic control for the event in general.  We also were super lucky because it was the first overcast day in weeks. So although we had many fisherman out on the reservoir the number of recreational boaters was lower than it has been in awhile.  I’m not sure what would have happened if we would have had our normal weekend traffic levels, but the combination of our camphost getting involved and the weather made the morning manageable.

The day wasn’t without incident though, as when we were leaving the campground for our evening run a young couple came into the campground and pulled up to us.  They told us a car had flipped into a ravine upriver near one of the Forest Service campgrounds and there was a fire.  They had been unable to call for help because they had no cell service and stopped at our campground because it was the first place they saw.  Lee immediately called 911 (who was already aware of the incident) and we finished grabbing our stuff and headed upriver.  Before we could leave the campground a second car pulled up and they said “15 trees were on fire.”  OK this was worse, because forest conditions have been very dry and the fire was only 10 miles upriver.  We assured them 911 had been called and then headed upriver to check out the scene.

For the record, dealing with fires is definitely out of our job description, but we are living less than 10 miles away and Hole-In-The-Wall was 2 miles downriver from where it occurred.  When we arrived, they had just closed the road and smoke was definitely billowing.  Lee and I got out of the car and walked up towards the Forest Service Law Enforcement truck where we were told, 2 people had been seriously injured and were being taken to the hospital, the fire was not under control and they would be “dealing with it for a while”.  The Ranger also asked us if we could help clear a “hole in the traffic because he was getting ready to evacuate the forest service campground this was next to.  We were happy to provide assistance and told the folks in waiting cars it was going to be a while.  Many couldn’t leave because there was no other good way to get to their destination and several of them were staying in the campground and had just come back from boating.

What we saw when we pulled up


One water truck on scene and lots of smoke.  What we didn’t realize at the time was the fire was on both sides.

I really felt bad for them because I knew there was nowhere else to stay close by because this time of year all the campgrounds are packed on the weekends.  After getting the cars to move, went on about our route and made sure Hole-In-The Wall and Moore Creek were fully stocked.  While we were doing that several cars who had turned around stopped and used them, so I was glad we were able to provide a place for people to wait it out at least. I was also glad that evening when it started raining.  We had gone 57 straight days without rain (second longest streak in Oregon history) and the fact that rain came on a day when we needed it for traffic control in the morning and to help with the fire in the evening felt like providence.  Plus I like the sun, but I was longing for a little bit of cooler temperatures and the rain means we wont have to water the trees this week.

The next morning Lee drove up and saw that the fire was still not completely out although it was well contained.  The road was open to one-way use and they had folks in place directing traffic. Thankfully they had it under control, although we did see that there were signs of fire on both side of the road.  We are not exactly sure how that happened, but one anecdotal report we heard said they hit an electric pole which is what actually started the fire.  It could have been so much worse, and everyone was really thankful it was responded to so quickly.  On Monday morning he was finally able to get some pictures when the fire was completely out and it was clear there was impact on both sides of the road.

This is the right side of the road where the car flipped.


The left side saw much more fire damage though


A long swath was burned along the road

This is what it looks like when fire response is onsite in less than 20 minutes, I can’t imagine what could have happened with a longer delay. The fire crews also had lots of available water from the Clackamas River and all in all we felt pretty lucky how this all turned out.  Our campground is 1 mile from the edge of the Mount Hood national forest, which is over 1 million acres of largely undeveloped land.

Sunday continued to rain and was overcast and Monday was the coolest day we have had in a couple of months.  I enjoyed the change in temperature, but was surprised by how much colder I was without the sunshine.  Crowds were also low because it has been almost a month since they have stocked trout.  The water is warm this time of year and there is a big break between stocking, so although some fish are there even the most experienced fishermen are having some trouble catching their limit.  This should change next week though as we have three big stocks scheduled starting August 22nd and over 20,000 trout will be going in the reservoir in the next few weeks.  Fish = fishermen and warm temps = recreational boaters, so when we combine those two things crowd levels are high.  Plus of course we have the eclipse and since we are only 4 miles from totality the next couple of weeks should be a little crazy.

We all appreciated the little break from the crowds and heat this week although my recycling certainly was impacted.  I only got 4 bags of recyclables this week (less than $10 worth).  I’m fine with that, happy to have the break, and I even had time to take a few pics of the osprey babies.  Still haven’t caught them flying, but they are getting pretty big and hopefully I’ll get to see that soon.


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3 thoughts on “First Time Working In A Utility Co. Park – Fire and Rain

  1. The fire had to be scary! We’ve never experienced that, thank goodness!
    Didn’t realize you were so close to the full eclipse – how exciting!
    When is your last day?

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