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The Camp Creek Fire is no longer active and the Portland Water Bureau has returned to normal operations. Thanks to the hard work of staff from the Water Bureau, Forest Service, and local firefighting agencies, we were able to continue serving water throughout the incident.
Around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 24, a lightning strike sparked a wildfire in the Bull Run Watershed.
Where is the fire?
The fire is burning in the Bull Run Watershed in the Mt. Hood National Forest, approximately 1.3 miles from Reservoir 1 and 1.9 miles from the Headworks treatment facility. The fire is burning on the opposite side of Reservoir 2 from the Headworks facility. As of the morning of October 4, the fire is estimated to be approximately 2,055 acres and is 62% contained. Learn more about what fire containment means.
What is the weather forecast?
Near-term weather forecasts predict stable conditions that are expected to keep fire growth manageable. However, fire in the watershed always poses a risk to Portland Water Bureau facilities and staff, and weather conditions can change quickly.
How is the Water Bureau responding?
We are continuing to work closely with fire agencies to monitor the threat levels to our staff and infrastructure. We are developing multiple contingency plans, so we are prepared in the event we are forced to evacuate staff from the watershed.
What is the Water Bureau doing to protect our drinking water from fire impacts?
Drinking water quality is best assured if the watershed remains forested. The Portland Water Bureau has been working closely with the agencies in charge of fighting the fire since first alerted to the blaze. Agencies include the U.S. Forest Service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and local fire departments. A national Incident Management Team took over joint fire command on August 27. The Portland Water Bureau does not have a direct firefighting role but is integrated into the Incident Management Team to provide critical information about the watershed, our facilities, and our operations to help support and guide the ongoing fire response.
How is the watershed protected and managed?
The Bull Run Watershed is located within the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit, an area of land that’s protected and regulated by a combination of federal and local laws. These regulations protect the watershed and water quality from the impacts of human activities. The Portland Water Bureau shares responsibility for managing the watershed with the U.S. Forest Service. The Water Bureau and the U.S. Forest Service work closely with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Portland Fire and Rescue, and other local fire agencies to make and implement plans for fire prevention, detection, and response. Learn more about how Bull Run is protected.
Will the fire harm the Bull Run supply in the long term?
Depending on the severity and size of the fire, there could be long-term impacts to the Bull Run.
Fall and winter rains may increase turbidity (amount of material suspended in water) by washing burned materials and higher than average volumes of dirt into streams and reservoirs. High turbidity decreases the effectiveness of water disinfection.
As burned materials enter the reservoirs, phosphorus and other nutrient levels may increase, which can increase the risk of harmful algal blooms. Additionally, sediment and other organic materials can react with chlorine to form “disinfection byproducts.” High levels of disinfection byproducts can cause health problems in people. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates these byproducts and other contaminants of concern. The Water Bureau tests our water for these regularly and reports results annually in our Drinking Water Quality Report. Portland’s drinking water meets or exceeds all drinking water standards. We will continue to closely monitor water quality during and following the fire.
How will the planned filtration facility protect us from the effects of wildfires?
The Bull Run water supply does not currently have a filtration facility. A filtration facility, like the one we have designed, will reduce the impact of future risks, enhance our water system’s resilience, better protect our customers, and make it easier for our water to comply with future safety and water quality regulations.
The new water filtration system will be in operation by September 2027 and will greatly reduce the threat of a long-term outage of the Bull Run system. Filtration works by removing potential contaminants from water, including dirt, organisms (such as Cryptosporidium), dissolved metals, and other organic materials that can be harmful to the community.
After a forest fire, as rainwater flows across burned areas, it can move more organic materials such as dirt, ash, and plant debris into our streams and reservoirs. When there is a large amount of these organic materials in the Bull Run supply, we cannot safely serve the water. The future filtration facility will remove these materials and allow us to continue to serve Bull Run water.
When was the last fire near the watershed/that threatened the watershed?
We have been fortunate that, until now, no major fires have occurred in the Bull Run Watershed while it has been a drinking water source for the City. In temperate rainforests like the Bull Run, the normal interval between large severe fires is multiple centuries. The last fire that burned most of the Bull Run (approximately 65,000 acres) occurred in the late 1490s.
In 2017, the Eagle Creek Fire entered a small portion of the Bull Run Watershed Management Unit. We monitored water quality and continued to serve Bull Run Water throughout the incident.
Are people still working in the watershed?
As a precautionary measure, the Water Bureau has postponed all non-critical work in the watershed to minimize risk to staff. Treatment, security, and dam/conduit operations staff continue to conduct essential work in the watershed.
Firefighters have evaluated Water Bureau structures in the watershed. They found that the water supply structures are “highly defensible.” These structures include the Headworks treatment facility; Bear Creek House, which contains communications equipment; and our Head Security Ranger residence. The agencies have said they will prioritize protecting structures in the Bull Run Watershed, as needed. If necessary, the teams will install fire-resistant building wrap to the structures to protect them from falling embers. Even though firefighters are prioritizing Water Bureau structures, staff may still need to evacuate the watershed if advised by lead agencies or if conditions develop that threaten the safety of employees.
Is there an evacuation plan for staff?
The bureau has detailed evacuation plans for the Bull Run Watershed and Headworks that have been updated with specific information related to the Camp Creek Fire. The bureau will evacuate facilities if advised by lead agencies or if conditions develop that threaten the safety of employees. Evacuation will depend on the Incident Management Team’s assessment of the fire’s behavior based on its size, severity, and weather conditions. Currently, there are Treatment Staff at Headworks and dam/conduit staff working in the watershed. Work in the watershed has been restricted to critical work only.
What chemicals are stored at Headworks? Are they combustible? How are you protecting them?
Chlorine and diesel fuel for the backup generator are stored at Headworks. The Water Bureau has proactively reduced the amount of chlorine stored at the Headworks facility since the fire began to reduce the risk of a chlorine release. Working with our partners at Portland Fire as well as our vendor, we have developed a contingency plan to swiftly remove the remaining chlorine at Headworks, should that be necessary.
Has a State of Emergency been issued?
Yes. On August 27, Mayor Wheeler declared a State of Emergency due to the Camp Creek Fire. This centralizes City resources and efforts related to the fire response to ensure continuity of services and allow for enhanced coordination, both within the City and with external agencies.
The emergency declaration allows us to modify human resource and procurement practices, authorize overtime pay to exempt employees, and pursue reimbursement for expenses related to the activation.
Are chemical fire retardants being used?
Fire retardants have been used in limited areas to support fire suppression efforts and protect the Bull Run Watershed. Decisions on how best to manage the fire while protecting people and water supply are led by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Read more about USFS’s use of fire retardants.
The Water Bureau will continue to monitor for potential impacts to water quality. To date, no impacts to water quality have been detected.
Do fire suppression activities affect water quality?
Drinking water quality is best assured if the watershed remains forested. The multi-agency fire Incident Management Team, from the Great Basin Coordination Center, is responsible for determining appropriate fire suppression activities. Water Bureau staff are working closely with the Incident Management Team, providing information to help inform suppression efforts and minimize impacts to the watershed and water supply.
Based on the amounts of fire retardant used in this fire, the Oregon Health Authority has determined that there is a negligible health risk to the water supply.
The Portland Water Bureau’s priorities immediately after a fire are drinking water quality and watershed health. The bureau is actively engaged in post-fire planning and resilience.
Will I have to boil my water because of the fire?
Not at this time. The water is safe to drink. The Portland Water Bureau will notify the public and the media if that changes.
When will you know if ash will be a problem? How severe or significant is the ash?
Portland’s drinking water comes from two large drinking water reservoirs, where any ashfall would be diluted. Additionally, drinking water is taken from lower levels of the reservoirs below the surface. In past fires near the watershed, ash did not have a measurable impact on water quality. The bureau will continue to monitor for any impacts to water quality.
What would the City do if the fire prevented us from using Bull Run water?
If we needed to switch off the Bull Run supply, we would use our groundwater supply from the Columbia South Shore Well Field. Our groundwater source is strong, but it doesn’t provide enough water for outdoors uses, like watering yards and washing cars. Since we’d be relying entirely on groundwater, we would ask water users to stop using water outdoors and limit indoor use. We are preparing for the possibility that we might need to issue water use restrictions in order to reduce demand quickly. We expect that our region will respond strongly to the collective need to reduce water use to stretch supplies to avoid further restrictions or limitations.
The Water Bureau has been augmenting the Bull Run water supply (our primary water source) with groundwater from the Columbia South Shore Well Field since August 24 due to seasonal supply needs. The Water Bureau continues to deliver a blend of Bull Run water and groundwater at this time.
Should I use less water?
While we always encourage wise water use, there are no water restrictions at this time. We’re constantly evaluating the situation and will let you know if things change. If we needed to switch off the Bull Run supply and rely entirely on groundwater, we would ask water users to stop using water outdoors and limit indoor use. Our groundwater source is strong, but it doesn’t provide enough water for summertime uses, like watering yards and washing cars.
What can the public do?
If the fire threatens our Bull Run staff and facilities and we need to rely on our groundwater system, we will ask our customers to help by reducing water use, stopping outdoor water use and limiting indoor water use as much as possible. No water restrictions are currently in place.
While the fire does not immediately threaten our water supply, it is important to stay informed, be prepared for emergencies, and stay clear of the area to ensure access for emergency responders.
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Information about emergency water storage is available in multiple languages on the Regional Water Providers Consortium website.