A lightning strike ignited the Cedar Creek fire on August 1, 2022. For nearly a month, the fire meandered in the wilderness about five miles west of Waldo Lake.
But the fire exploded in September, fanned by hot dry winds and incinerated nearly 200 square miles of forest. Much of the northern and eastern shorelines of Waldo Lake were severely burned.
“We did have areas of high severity fire,” said Fred Levitan, Engineering Geologist, Willamette National Forest.
“Probably the area that burned hottest and people are going to see when they go to Waldo Lake is the old Charlton burn scare on the north end of the lake. It was already somewhat denuded from that 1996 fire. Some vegetation was growing back. There was a lot of dead and downed woody material on the ground. That all was reignited, and it burned quite hot in there.”
Scientists who conducted an after-fire assessment believe some ash and mud will flow into Waldo Lake, but not enough to reduce its amazing clarity.
Canoers and kayakers will still enjoy paddling on Waldo Lake and seeing the bottom in 100 feet of water.
“We’re not seeing there’s going to be long-term impacts on the water quality and water clarity of Waldo Lake,” Levitan said.
“Basically, what we believe is going to happen is we will get a flush of ash and sediment for the first one-to-three years that may, temporarily, reduce that water quality some. it may cause a little bit of algae growth, but that stuff will settle to the bottom of the lake. I would expect within a few years it’s going to be very similar to what we saw before the fire.”
We visited the popular Islet boat ramp and day use area which remain closed due to fire damage.
“You’ll see that the area was swept through by the fire with a high mortality rate. There are trees right along the lake shore and trail that are completely black and threatening to fall down. We definitely want to get rid of any of the trees that are going to be dangerous,” said Chloe Holbrook, Developed Recreation Lead, Willamette National Forest.
About 70% of trees in the Islet, North Waldo, Blair Lake, Huckleberry Lake and Harrelson day use areas and campgrounds were killed by the fire. Many that are still green will probably die due to exposure to extreme heat.
“The big effort is going to be to cut and remove all the dead trees out of the campground. Unfortunately, it’s not like a trail where we can leave standing dead trees because we have targets where people are going to spending a lot of time — camp pads, parking spots, etc. It’s Forest Service policy. It’s also good practice to remove any dead trees that are likely to fall from the area. So, in these sites with such a high mortality means we are going to be removing most of the trees in these areas,” Holdbrook said.
It’s going to take months, possibly years, to remove dead trees from the campgrounds and day use areas that will remain closed until the hazards are mitigated. But whether the trees are cut down for safety reasons or eventually fall down on their own, the landscape will change.
It’s going to open up the views but there will be much less shade.
“A lot of the trails were burned so badly all the organic material is gone. It’s hard to tell there is even a trail there,” Holbrook said.
“Finding your way can be difficult. There’s other hazards like branches falling, unstable dead trees that come down. Loose logs, rocks, mudslides, flash flooding. Lots of things to be aware of. If you do go into the wilderness area, we do recommend checking the weather. Make sure you tell someone where you are going to be and how long and not camping under dead trees. Making sure you set up in a safe location.”
As of now, the shoreline trail around Waldo Lake is open to the public but not cleared. Expect any hikes you undertake in the area to take much longer than they used to.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the mosquitoes. They are still there, eager to sample your blood type.