Wildfire Season in Oregon Has Been Low-Key...So Far

But with hot, dry weather ahead and fires burning around beloved Waldo Lake, that might not last.

By Julia Silverman August 17, 2022

Waldo Lake is a cherished getaway in Oregon; this year, fires are burning near the lake, though campgrounds are still open.

This should be peak season for visiting the clear depths of Waldo Lake in the vast expanse of the Willamette National Forest east of Eugene. The mosquitoes that swarm the lake’s shores in June and July are mostly gone, the huckleberries are ripening, and the lake is warm enough for swimming.

But Waldo Lake, the second largest natural lake in Oregon, is now at the center of Oregon’s biggest wildfire, during what has otherwise been a fairly subdued wildfire season.

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center is monitoring four large uncontained fires in Oregon, and all four of them—the Big Swamp Fire, the Cedar Creek Fire, the Potter Fire, and the Windigo Fire—are in the vicinity of Waldo Lake. 

The largest of those is the Cedar Creek fire, which is now 4,836 acres. That’s relatively small when compared to the six-figure mega-fires that have burned across Oregon in recent years. But containment of the Cedar Creek fire has been notably elusive—it remains zero percent contained, though it has been burning now since the beginning of August.

Fire crews are fighting the blaze both on the ground and via water drops from the air, but notably air quality throughout the state has been relatively unaffected. Even in Oakridge, the closest town to the Waldo Lake fires, air quality was rated as “moderate” as of Wednesday afternoon.

Temperatures across Oregon are expected to hit near triple digits today and Thursday, with a possibility of afternoon thunderstorms. That’s always a double-edged sword; thunderstorms can bring moisture, but also more lightning strikes. 

Some of the largest fires in Oregon—including the devastating Beachie Creek/Santiam Fire, which spread to over 400,000 acres, and destroyed about 1,500 structures in 2020—were sparked at the end of August or early September, suggesting that the state is not out of the literal woods yet. But wildfire activity this year has been much more muted than in the past few summers. So far this year in the Pacific Northwest, fires have consumed 126,018 acres, as opposed to nearly 1.4 million acres in 2021 and 525,610 in 2020, according to the NICC.

Those who want to keep tabs on the trajectory of the fires around Waldo Lake can tune in at 7 p.m. to a Facebook Live update from the fire’s incident commanders this evening. Trailheads and dispersed camping to the west and the north of the lake are closed, but campgrounds and access to the Pacific Crest Trail along the lake’s eastern side remain open.

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