About 58,689 acres of crops planted in Wasco and Sherman Counties were within the perimeter of the Substation Fire

While its unclear how much of those crops were harvested before the land east of The Dalles was engulfed in flames, the numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture represent the first itemized estimate of the potential loss to Oregon’s wheat country.

Crops make up more than half of the area engulfed in the Substation fire, which burned 78,425 acres. Initial estimates from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services calculated that nearly half of the crop of Wasco County may be lost as a result of the fire. The new numbers, which represent crops planted in both Wasco and Sherman counties, mean the loss could be even greater.

Still, it’s too soon to say whether all planted crops were lost to the fire; the USDA doesn’t know how much of those crops were saved before the area erupted in flames. 

“Unfortunately, we do not know how many acres were harvested,” said Kent Willett, Oregon state specialist with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

The numbers, calculated using geographic information system (GIS) analysis of the fire area, are based on farmers’ reports to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, which maintains records of what was planted. They paint a clearer picture of what was at stake in the fire.

Wheat, grass and fallow made up the vast majority of crops. About 23,551 acres of grazing grass were within the fire’s perimeter.

The fire hit wheat farmers hard. Roughly 100 farms grow wheat in Wasco County, where wheat made up more than 12,000 acres of planted crops within the Substation Fire perimeter. Wheat makes up more than 90 percent of farmland in the area and harvest season was just beginning when the fire erupted.

“Every single neighbor lost something in this fire,” Cynthia Kortge, a Wasco County resident, told OPB. “Every single one.”