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Eugene-Springfield, McKenzie firefighters help save historic Multnomah Falls Lodge

Historic Multnomah Falls Lodge is still standing in the Columbia River Gorge after a close encounter with the Eagle Creek Fire. (courtesy Eugene-Springfield Fire Dept.)

CORBETT, Ore. -- The historic Multnomah Falls Lodge is still standing in the Columbia River Gorge after a close encounter with the Eagle Creek Fire.

The iconic restaurant and gift shop is nearly a century old, and thanks to quick action from Lane County firefighters and other fire agencies, it can be enjoyed for generations to come.

McKenzie Fire & Rescue Chief Darren Bucich and Eugene-Springfield Fire Battalion Chief Lance Lighty are a part of a team that works under the State Fire Marshall. They were called out to the Eagle Creek Fire on September 2nd. Two days later, they said they were in the right place at the right time.

Lighty said they noticed a smaller spot fire had started miles away and was heading toward the Multnomah Falls Lodge. Lighty said the flames were moving fast.

"It had already covered five or six miles in just a couple of hours," Lighty said. "So we knew it was coming."

What followed was a night that Lighty or Bucich will not soon forget.

"It was a career experience for sure," Bucich said, "I think for a lot of folks that were there that night."

"An epic event that I've never seen," Lighty said, "and people that were in the forest service for 35, 40 years had never seen a fire move that fast."

Lighty and Bucich were some of the first to arrive at the lodge. They alerted the lodge owner, called for additional resources from nearby fire agencies, and put together a plan of attack.

"We elected to put an aerial ladder truck that could flow water down on it," Lighty said, "like a big sprinkler, if you will."

"We knew we couldn't stop the wildland fire because it was going too fast; all we could do is just try and slow it down," Bucich said. "(We) just sprayed back and forth...for as many hours as it took to keep things wet."

It took more than just a few hours. Bucich said crews stayed at the lodge 24 hours a day for several days.

Lighty said crews were up against a "fire storm" -- 35 MPH winds, falling embers, and heat. He said at one point they were surrounded on three sides by fire, just 30 yards away.

Lighty and Bucich said they knew they were protecting a piece of Oregon's history.

"It's a well-traveled place," Bucich said. "The falls behind it. The trails behind it. it's been around for a number of years."

The Multnomah Falls Lodge was completed in 1925. More than two million tourists visit the falls every year.

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