A wall of flames roars down a hillside in northern Oregon, barreling straight for the Columbia River while patrons of Beacon Rock Golf Course can only watch in awe. Some of them continue to play golf.
Photos of the wildfire, only a small part of the enormous Eagle Creek wildfire that is still burning through northern Oregon and southern Washington, quickly went viral online. In the photo, a group of golfers at Beacon Rock are captured continuing their game, seemingly apathetic about the flames tearing up the hill behind them.
Inverse spoke with both the photographer and one of the featured golfers to figure out what the hell was going on.
“It was a very surreal scene,” McCluer told Inverse via email. “I ended up at the golf course sort of by chance.”
McCluer, who says she’s spent most of her life hiking the area, was heartbroken when she heard about the Eagle Creek. “I was actually driving up to the Bridge of the Gods to view [the fire] from there, but on my way I spotted what I thought was a large parking lot where several other people were parked. I pulled in, parked, and was quickly told by a Washington State Police office to move on because what looked like a parking lot was actually a road. I pulled forward and around the corner and stumbled upon the golf course. There were only a few cars parked there so I got out and started taking pictures.”
According to McCluer, people “were in awe of the fire. It was stunning to see. Beautiful and terrible at the same time. At night it looked like lava flowing.”
Inverse also spoke with one of the golfers in McCluer’s viral photo, Brandon Crawford, who was captured on the putting green on the course’s ninth hole. Crawford says no one was particularly worried since the fire was on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, but that it, naturally, held everyone’s attention.
“People would play and then pause to stare at the fire,” Crawford says. “Take a swing and then stare, take a swing and then stare… A lot of people were standing around taking photos and standing around with their kids, just watching.”
Crawford and his group finished the game, with Crawford ending at 4 over par, perhaps some of the only good news to come out of the fire.
As of Friday, the Eagle Creek fire had burned its way through over 33,000 acres of land in northern Oregon, eating through the scenic Columbia River Gorge, threatening Portland’s main water supply, and blowing smoke into urban areas. The Eagle Creek fire is one of the hundreds currently tearing their way through the American West — but the viral photos and its location and potentially dramatic origins are setting this wildfire apart.
Oregon state police currently suspect a 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Washington, accidentally started the wildfire while playing with fireworks in Eagle Creek. The Los Angeles Times reports that “the blaze soon joined with another fire in the scenic area, burning since July 4, and jumped the Columbia River, sparking new fires in Washington.”
Over 900 firefighters are currently working against the blaze, but have only been able to contain about 7 percent of the fire by building earthen barriers and removing underbrush around more than 100 homes.