Governor Kate Brown paid a visit Thursday to one of the state’s largest wildfires this year.
The Cedar Creek Fire, which has caused smoky skies in Central Oregon in recent days, has now grown to 115,428 acres, caused mass evacuations for the town of Oakridge.
The fire is only 25% contained after burning for nearly two months.
Governor Brown visited with representatives from USFS, OSFM, ODF, Oakridge Fire District, Eugene Springfield Fire Department to hear about the fire’s background and current operations at the incident command center in Oakridge.
“For me, this is about coming and saying thank you to all of our partners,” Brown said. “I had a visit with the City of Oakridge, the mayor and the fire chief there, to hear about their experiences on the ground and the impact that Senate Bill 762 had on the community.”
SB 762, passed by the Oregon legislature last year, provided more than $220 million for wildfire preparedness throughout the state.
“The work on the local level, the county level, the state level, and our federal partners has truly made difference in terms of keeping communities safe and keeping people alive,” Brown said. “That level of collaboration, I think, is unusual.”
The fire has cost more than $100 million to fight over the past couple of months.
The location and nature of the lightning-caused fire made a quick elimination impossible. During the briefing, officials spoke about how the fire began on a cliff next to Cedar Creek, and the 70-80% slope and lack of road access made it difficult to reach.
Many living in Oakridge are still shaken from evacuations earlier this month, when a wind event pushed the fire east and brought a large part of the town under Level 3: Go Now evacuation orders.
Su Stella lives on the east side of town, and went out of town to visit friends when the evacuation happened.
“It was scary, and the sad part was a couple of days before, I actually watched 15,000 acres burn from my front porch,” she said. “We could see a direct line to the fire, and the smoke clouds just billowed and billowed, it was horrifying.”
The town had a reprieve from smoke on Thursday amid rainfall, but Stella said the smoke levels over the past couple of months have been unbearable.
“We’ve been stuck in the house for weeks,” she said. “We actually just came back from the coast for a few days. My voice has changed because of it.”
She said the amount of time it’s taken to get the fire under control has been ‘heartbreaking’.
The cooler temperatures and rain this week have hampered the fire’s growth, but the work is far from over, as nearly 1,300 fire personnel operate from the bases in Oakridge and at Mt. Bachelor.
“We’re incredibly grateful that all of these folks are wiling to put their lives on the line to protect Oregon resources to keep people safe and to protect property,” Brown said.
It might be bright and sunny outside, but ski season is just a few months away.
Mt. Bachelor announced its taking a new approach to season passes this year in an effort to avoid lawsuits.
This year, Mt. Bachelor season passes will have two pricing options with varied protection offered to guests. Those willing to sign a liability waiver will get a cheaper option, while those who want to skip the signature will have to pay extra, up to $250 for an adult season pass.
The options will be present for all activities including a ‘normal amount of risk’, including mountain biking.
“We’ve tried to strike the balance between making it a reasonable choice between these two options, and a meaningful price difference,” said John McLeod, Mt. Bachelor’s President and General Manager on Monday.
“For those people who do choosethe lower price product and do choose to sign a release of liability, the situation would be just as it is in many other states, where it governs the terms of our relationship with those customers,” McLeod added. “For our guests who choose not to sign our release of liability, it all just falls down to the law of the land.”
He said the decision comes amid Oregon’s current legal landscape.
In an email to season pass holders a couple of weeks ago, McLeod explained that Oregon does not allow the same protections as other western states when it comes for outdoor recreation facilities.
“In 13 out of 14 Western states, liability releases are legally enforceable helping outdoor recreation providers in those states address dangers that are inherent to recreating outdoors,” his email read. “Unfortunately, outdoor recreation providers in Oregon do not have this type of legal protection and are being challenged by rapidly increasing insurance premiums and legal costs.”
Central Oregon Daily News spoke with folks at ski supply shops in Bend about how they felt about the change.
Powder House Ski Shop’s owner, Todd McGee, said he would personally opt for the cheaper option and sign the waiver.
“It’s kind of where we’re at right now with the liability, and we’re doing a very risky sport with going downhill at high speeds, and being on snow or dirt on bikes, so it’s just something Bachelor needs to do and they didn’t have an option,” he said.
Other skiers who did not want to appear on camera said they believed the move was a way for the mountain to avoid taking responsibility for accidents.
The price change comes as Mt. Bachelor faces a nearly $50 million lawsuit in the death of 9-year-old Brecken Boice, who suffered fatal injuries on an icy slope in January 2021.
McLeod said the change was not a result of any single case.
“As you’ve seen, obvious compared to a lot of other states, the increase in size and frequency of lawsuits is a contributing factor,” McLeod said.
Regardless of feelings surrounding the decision, both the mountain and ski shop reported a similar trend.
“Everyone I’ve talked to has said they’re signing the waiver and doing the cheaper price,” McGee said.
“The overwhelming majority of our guests are selecting to pay the lower price,” McLeod added. “Because they understand the concept of personal responsibility and inherent risk. So that’s the main point of feedback that we’re getting right now, everybody’s taking the lower product.”
McLeod said Mt. Bachelor would soon be embarking on an effort to introduce legislation that gives Oregon outdoor recreation providers the same protection as in other states like California and Washington.
You can read McLeod’s full statement to season pass holders below:
Season Pass Pricing
Mt. Bachelor has implemented a new pricing approach for season pass products, which will be followed by a similar change in pricing for many of our ticket products for the upcoming winter season. In simple terms there will now be two prices for these lift access products, a lower priced option that, similar to year’s past, requires you to sign our standard release of liability and a new higher priced option that does not require you to sign a release of liability.
This change is a result of the current legal landscape in Oregon. In recent years large lawsuits against outdoor recreation providers in Oregon, including many related to the inherent risks of skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking, have started to significantly threaten the outdoor recreation industry.
Oregon is a state that prides itself on its abundance of outdoor recreation, from hiking, fishing and climbing, to surfing, mountain biking and of course, skiing and snowboarding. There are many people and businesses that support the outdoor lifestyle we cherish and provide employment in the outdoor recreation sector. In 13 out of 14 Western states, liability releases are legally enforceable helping outdoor recreation providers in those states address dangers that are inherent to recreating outdoors. Unfortunately, outdoor recreation providers in Oregon do not have this type of legal protection and are being challenged by rapidly increasing insurance premiums and legal costs. We have already begun to see this impact in the closure of downhill mountain biking at Ski Bowl and there will be more impacts like this until the legal landscape changes. We hope you will begin to hear more about this issue as the outdoor recreation industry engages in an effort to restore legal protections for outdoor recreation providers in Oregon and place us on an equal footing with our nearest neighbors and most other states in the nation.
In the meantime, we hope that by providing you with additional choices in your season pass and ticket purchase process, you can make your own decisions about how you wish to deal with the risks of participation in our sport.
As the weather gets a little warmer this weekend, it’s a good time to get outside for some live music.
A massive free music festival in Bend seeks to fill that need and shine a light on local artists.
The Bend Roots Festival kicked off Friday night on nine different stages in or around the Box Factory.
It was originally started in 2006 with just 12 acts, playing at the Parilla Grill in the Victorian Cafe for just one Saturday.
“We were talking about what could we do instead of glorifying those that have already gone out into the world and made it, what if we could focus on the local community and give our local artists an opportunity to celebrate them, to celebrate their music,” said Mark Ransom, who founded the festival along with Brent Allen.
It’s now grown to 120 mostly-local music groups performing across the nine stages. It’s the first year hosting the event in the central Box Factory location.
“This year we’re coming back after COVID to one location, the Box Factory area and some surrounding venues,” Ransom said. “That feels really good too, because we spread it out for COVID, east side, midtown and now we’re coming back over here.”
The three-day, family-friendly festival runs through Sunday evening.
“Performing at the Roots Festival is kind of a unique spot, because you have a lot of people who might not normally go out to concerts or to music venues,” said Matthew Fletcher, the sound engineer for the Spoken Moto stages and a performer himself. “Super family-friendly, so you get ages a couple months up to people in their 90’s.”
Jeshua Marshall and his band, Jeshua Marshall and the Flood, have been performing at the Roots Festival for seven years in a row.
He now runs the Fuzz Phonic stage located in The Podski, with his nonprofit record label which encourages independent artists to release music.
“It’s just such a beautiful community gathering of musicians and people and artists,” Marshall said. “The energy and the vibe keeps me coming back and being involved.”
Donations from attendees will go toward the Bend Roots fund, connecting local musicians with mentorship programs in schools.
A grant from Visit Bend required them to advertise in areas outside of Central Oregon, which they hope will draw a larger crowd than normal.
Ransom said the most people they have seen over a weekend in the past has been 3,500, and they expect to double that number this weekend.
“We’re trying to inspire people to dive into the arts and to really look at what music can do in the community and for individuals. It’s a great way of approaching the world,” he said.
“I hope people come away with a really deep rooted sense of community,” Fletcher added. “It’s all about the community really, bringing it back, and that they feel part of it, part of our Roots family.”
You can find more information about artists and venues on their website at bendroots.net.
Last fall, anxiety was high at Smith Rock Ranch in Terrebonne as drought minimized their water allocation.
As they approach opening day this year on October 1 with their U-pick pumpkin patch, corn maze and animals, it’s a different story.
“The pumpkin crop is not a huge crop, but the quality looks really good, but last spring was a lot of uncertainty about whether we were going to make it and what we should be doing,” said Matt Lisignoli, the ranch’s owner.
Last summer Lisignoli grew most of his 35 acres of pumpkin crops several miles up the road on his property in Jefferson County.
As part of the North Unit Irrigation District, which only has junior water rights, the property was allocated just an acre foot of water at the start of the season, which is less than half of their usual allocation.
This year, Lisignoli didn’t want to take that risk.
“What we did this year is we planted the majority of our pumpkin crop here at Terrebonne,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing, only the climate gets better as you move further north and the pumpkins do better.”
But Lisignoli won’t have enough room next year to rotate the pumpkins to another part of the main ranch, as it’s a crop that’s prone to disease and needs to be shifted from place to place.
He’ll have to take another gamble on the Jefferson County property, and the potential for less water.
“It’s going to depend on the weather this winter, how much snowpack we get, how much water is released through the Endangered Species Act,” Lisignoli said. “There’s just a lot of unknowns. It would be nice to have a definite plan, and we have in the past, but there’s just so much uncertainty.”
The Endangered Species Act, which protects the Spotted Frog and other species in the Deschutes and Crooked River basins, requires farmers to let more water out into the river in the winter rather than saving it up for summer.
Farmers in the North Unit Irrigation District then have to operate with less water throughout the irrigation season.
“We’re in a drought, but the bigger problem is going to be working with the conservation plan to store enough water so the farmers in Jefferson County can survive,” Lisignoli said. “Even though we have good water rights here, we only receive about a tenth of the water up in Jefferson County.”
To buy tickets for the corn maze and other activities at Smith Rock Ranch, you can visit their website at smithrockranch.com. Tickets are not required for the U-pick pumpkin patch.
The Oregon School Activities Association wants the bad behavior against sports officials to stop.
A recent op-ed by OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber and the CEO of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Dr. Karissa Niehoff called the yelling, harassment and disrespect of high school officials “unacceptable” and “embarrassing.”
“These things just can’t go on,” Weber told Central Oregon Daily News on Monday. “We need to make sure that we’re cleaning up any behavior that’s out there.”
According to the op-ed, a survey from NFHS revealed that 55% of officials surveyed said verbal abuse from coaches, parents and fans was the No. 1 reason they quit.
84% of those surveyed said they felt officials are treated unfairly by spectators, and 46% have felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to spectator, coach, administrator or player behavior.
The op-ed was written to support a nationwide campaign to shine a light on the issue and improve the existing referee shortage.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to work on the past couple of years ourselves,” Weber said. “But this national effort really is something that we want to get behind. We think it can be a positive and hope it can improve the atmosphere at events really for everybody, but obviously in particular for our officials.”
Jim Gregory, the President of the Central Oregon Football Officials Association, said that kind of behavior locally has been minimal.
“I’ve officiated basketball in the past and I’m currently a baseball umpire as well,” he said. “You hear the same thing, they question the ball or a strike or the application of a rule, but there’s really been no derogatory epithets or anything thrown toward us personally.”
But when it does happen, Gregory said it’s their job to manage it.
“What we’ll do is just step in there and say ‘hey, let’s knock it off, we’re going back to our huddles, let’s collect our thoughts and cool down for minute,'” he said.
He said the larger threat to referee numbers locally has been older, more experienced referees retiring from the job.
But a referee shortage has been present, leading to shifts in schedules and gameplay across various high school sports, including volleyball.
The OSAA hopes the article will be a step toward a better attitude toward officials in the state. They are also joining a national social media campaign, #BenchBadBehavior, to raise awareness.
“I think for the vast majority of games we have pretty good behavior from spectators and they’re supportive and that’s really been what our focus has been,” Weber said. “Let’s focus on the positive piece and focus on supporting your team, not being negative towards the other team or negative towards officials. Let’s remember what interscholastic sports are about.”
It’s all aboard the train this weekend…well, the model trains that is.
The Eastern Cascades Model Railroad Club held the first day of their 25th annual open house on Saturday.
Kids and adults alike gathered to ride the model trains along roughly two miles of track on the club’s property on Modoc Ln. in east Bend.
Club members have been building on the track since 1995. This is their first year holding the open house since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ray Taylor, the club’s treasurer, said they were worried they would lose some of the crowd this year.
“Because of COVID we haven’t done this for two years, and we have kind of a clientele of young families, and you see the kids grow up over time,” he said. “But the response has been great. We appreciate everybody being a part of it.”
10 trains ran throughout each day, run by diesel, gas, and steam engines. Members from a couple of other clubs around the state came to contribute their own engines as well.
Folks were also welcome to come inside to observe more than a mile of a mini model train set, which members have worked hard to expand and improve this year with new scenery of upstate New York.
“Everybody loves trains anyway,” Taylor said. “We’re not all kids here, obviously there’s some of us old men that are doing this also, but the draw is just the excitement of trains. For the little kids the trains are just wonderful, and for the families, so it’s something we enjoy doing.”
He said nearly 1,000 people had already attended by Saturday afternoon.
They will also be running the event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) and the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP), unions that make up around 1,350 St. Charles employees, launched a petition Thursday that they hope will push the hospital to make a move.
The hospital requested the money back, but union representatives from ONA and OFNHP said they didn’t provide adequate documentation about the money owed.
“None of the nurses at these hospitals that are getting demands for repayment can trust that St. Charles has done the math,” said ONA Director of Communications Scott Palmer. “When you get a bill for $1,400 and there’s no explanation on how they arrived at that amount, would you just turn around and write them a check? You would probably ask for some documentation.”
The unions’ petition reads in full:
“We, the employees of the St. Charles Health System, no longer have confidence in our employer’s accounting and payroll practices due to the litany of errors claimed to have been made within the past year. We will not agree on any repayment plans for alleged overpayment by St. Charles unless and until a third-party independent audit has been conducted which proves overpayments occurred, including the specific dates and amounts of the overpayment(s) in question. Should St. Charles seek recoupment of alleged overpayment through payroll deduction without express permission, we will seek any and all remedies, legal and otherwise.”
They believe the audit would ensure accuracy in the amounts they’re being asked to repay.
“They are not opposing paying what they owe, it’s about perhaps paying something that they don’t owe,” said Shane Burley, the Communications Organizer for the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. “And that this wasn’t taken care of in advance, and it’s also putting the burden on working class frontline healthcare workers to solve this problem when it’s not one they created.”
Some nurses reported receiving post-it notes with the amounts they allegedly owe written on them.
“I’m hearing everywhere from $300 to $7,000, $8,000 dollars,” Burley said. “We’re talking about throwing someone into immense amounts of debt suddenly without providing the correct documentation that that debt has actually been accrued. So that’s why we’re so concerned that all these frontline healthcare workers are suddenly going to be given thousands of dollars of bills that they weren’t anticipating, and weren’t their fault necessarily.”
“At this point we’re prepared to do pretty much anything to make it clear that we’re not going to just roll over and accept this,” Palmer said. “We’ve been telling them for weeks that this is a nightmare. We don’t understand how they arrived at these numbers. Show us the proof.”
The unions had not yet heard from St. Charles about their petition on Thursday.
Central Oregon Daily News reached out to St. Charles for a comment, but received no response.
“We will continue to push with the petition, we’re also considering engaging in legal action, and we’ve already submitted a complaint to the Bureau of Labor and Industries around this, and we’ll continue to do whatever we have to do to stop them from these unreasonable demands,” Palmer added.
As of Thursday morning, union representatives said the petition had received around 700 signatures.
They believe the two unions working together will help send a message.
“It shows a lot of unity that people across different professions in the hospital are all kind of coming together on this,” Burley said. “We know it affects a lot of different people in the hospital and I think it shows that we’re all willing to solve these problems together.”
They say the hospital gave them a deadline of Aug. 29 to figure out a way to repay the funds.
The plan would allow $10,000 in debt forgiveness for individuals making under $125,000 a year or families earning less than $250,000. Those who received a Pell Grant will be eligible for $20,000 in relief.
Ian Snyder, a senior at OSU-Cascades, said he didn’t think it would really happen.
“I’m just excited that it’s actually happening, because it’s one of those things that gets promised and you never hear about it again,” he said.
An estimated 43 million borrowers will benefit. It’s a reduction on the $1.6 trillion owed in federal student debt across the nation.
“I think I’m about somewhere between 40 to 50 thousand in debt and I’m a Pell Grant student,” Snyder said. “So we could be like up to half my debt gets forgiven, so a pretty big chunk.”
Shane Kelly, another OSU-Cascades senior, already has around $40,000 in student debt.
“Once I get a job after I graduate, it probably will take awhile to pay it off so this loan forgiveness will definitely help me with that,” he said.
20 million borrowers will have their debt completely canceled through the plan, like Bend photographer Caleb Thomas who is still paying off loans from the OSU degree he earned in 2012.
When he graduated, he had around $22,000 in student debt. It has taken him 10 years to reduce that number to around $3,000.
“My student debt payments were about $220 a month, just always having that over my head,” he said. “Now knowing that those payments are not something that’s necessarily going to come back, I can take that money and reinvest into the business. I can rent a space for myself. I can expand, I can bring on another person to help with administrative stuff. Getting that off our shoulders, it opens up an entirely new world.”
Thomas believes student debt has prevented his generation from being able to participate in life in the same way as previous generations.
“I know that $1.6 trillion amongst people could be used to start businesses, could be used to revolutionize our economy, to bring kids into this world, to buy homes, to build homes, to buy property. To do all of the things that normal people throughout our generations have been able to do,” he said.
For some, the relief means the chance to dream a little bigger.
Snyder said he thought he would be able to pay off his loans in half the time because of the forgiveness.
“I’d like to get my own property and build a house on it at some point, so that’s probably my next biggest thing after paying off student debt,” he said.
Kelly works two on-campus jobs to help pay for the cost of tuition, and he was excited at the chance to save money for other ventures.
“Maybe just like buying a new car, looking for living off-campus here in Bend,” he said.
While the break is welcome, the root cause of the debt and the cost for taxpayers is a concern for many.
“Giving the American people a little reprieve from their student debt payments, I couldn’t care less if it means we pay more in taxes or have more in national debt,” Thomas said. “We’re not going to be that shining city on a hill if we keep saddling all of these generations with debt that they will never be able to pay in their lifetime. And that’s just going to put us further behind the rest of the modern world.”
Biden made the move under the 2003 HEROES Act, which gives the president the authority to reduce or remove student debt during a national emergency, like the one that still remains in effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is still a chance for legal challenges as questions arise regarding a potential executive overreach.
A family is left grieving in the wake of the tragic plane crash that killed twin brothers Daniel and Mark Harro last Monday, but the lone survivor of the crash is providing comfort as they start to heal.
The brothers died on Aug. 15 near Yellow Pine, Idaho while flying back from a camping trip.
Cinder, Daniel’s Australian Shepherd mix dog, was the lone survivor of the crash.
“It was such a miracle, she had to have been wrapped in angel wings,” said Daniel’s mother-in-law Yolanda Davis. “There is no way she could’ve survived this, such an abrupt stop.”
Amid the tragedy, her survival was a light of relief.
“To find out that night that she was alive, everyone was like ‘oh my goodness, can you believe it?’ No one could believe it,” Yolanda said.
“There’s no indication of anything broken or internal injuries, it just seems like she’s badly bruised all over her body,” said father-in-law Tim Davis.
Cinder belonged to Daniel and his wife Elisif. An adventurous companion to an equally adventurous owner.
“Any time he could be in the outdoors it was the best day ever,” Yolanda said. “Their family was known as team Harro, and that would be Daniel, Elisif, and their dog. They did everything together…they go backpacking with her, they go backcountry skiing with her, she goes mountain biking, she can run 20 or 30 miles.”
She said the best word to describe her late son-in-law is ‘joy’.
“He personifies joy, everyone who meets him, he gives joy to, he is a bigger than life guy,” she said. “He was always helping family and friends but not only that, strangers. As soon as you met him, he wouldn’t have been a stranger, he would’ve been your friend.”
Tim said he never saw Daniel in a bad mood.
“He always had an uplifting word. Sometimes you hated him for it because you wanted to be bummed,” he chuckled. “But that was Daniel.”
They now know the tragedy was completely unforeseen.
“We all knew in our heart that Daniel would’ve done everything possible. Because that’s the kind of guy he is,” Yolanda said. “It was really uplifting to find out the unofficial cause is mechanical failure, and that Daniel did everything right. If he had like two to five seconds more of power, he could’ve made it.”
Yolanda recalled flying with Daniel in his plane before and feeling very safe due to his meticulous care in the process.
It was several hours before first responders made it to the crash site, and to Cinder.
“As soon as they found out Cinder was back there and still alive, they had to cut a hole in the back of the fuselage to get her out,” Tim said. “Didn’t really know what shape she was in, tried to get a vet but it was just small communities out there. So they drove two and a half hours down to Boise to a 24/7 vet clinic to get her looked over. They didn’t have to do that.”
“The fire service has a tradition called first watch,” Yolanda added. “And when a firefighter dies they set a watch over the firemen and they stay with them 24/7 until the funeral. We realized with Cinder, Cinder had the first watch for nine hours. She sat there in that plane watching over her beloved boys.”
An unspeakable loss. But now, a comfort through the darkness.
“Cinder is extra special and important to us right now. She’s a piece of Daniel,” Yolanda said.
Bend Fire & Rescue announced plans for a joint memorial service for the brothers on Sunday, August 28, at 11:00 a.m. at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater in Bend.
A public viewing for Daniel Harro will be held at Niswonger-Reynolds Funeral Home, 105 NW Irving Avenue in Bend, on Saturday, August 27, from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Saturday would have been Daniel and Elisif’s 16th wedding anniversary.
There is a GoFundMe set up to help Elisif and Cinder during this time, which you can find here.