- The Eagle Creek Fire not only burned trees and forced families to evacuate, it also threatened wildlife. One animal in particular: a fish. Herman the sturgeon, a 79-year-old, 500-pound sturgeon was in harm’s way in his viewing tank at Bonneville Fish Hatchery near Cascade Locks. And people wanted to know if the underwater icon was OK? He was — it wasn’t Herman’s first brush with danger.
“This was a story that delighted and baffled my colleagues in the OPB newsroom. Anyone who’d visited Herman as a child or had taken their own children to meet him knew immediately it would find an audience.
“As a kid in the Northwest, you learn to love native wildlife that’s not particularly flashy. Newts, red-winged blackbirds, the occasional deer. But here was a creature that looked like a cross between a dinosaur and a shark, and it came from the bottom of the Columbia River. I was impressed.
“Of course, Herman is more than just a fish. He’s a survivor. An otherworldly marvel. Portland’s Li’l Sebastian. He was, for me, a way of lifting people’s spirits after a week of smoke and fire and loss in the Gorge.” — Amelia Templeton, OPB reporter
- In May, Portland police responded to reports of an attack on a MAX light-rail train at Hollywood Transit Center. Two people died and another was critically injured. Jeremy Christian allegedly stabbed three people who intervened after he made racist remarks to two African-American teenagers, one of which wore a hijab. The attack and deaths sent shockwaves through the city and made some question Portland’s self-proclaimed progressive views on race, peace and safety.
“The attack happened to fall on the first night of Ramadan. While my editor Ryan was in the Portland office getting the latest information from law enforcement, I drove out to Masjed As-Saber, Oregon’s largest mosque, to hear from leaders of Portland’s Muslim community.
“I spoke with the mosque’s president, Imtiaz Khan, who had already heard from many worshippers about the MAX attack that night. Khan was disappointed that the two women on the train, one of whom was Muslim, may have been targets of hate speech. And while he spoke of fear and sadness within the community, it didn’t stop several Muslim families from coming out that night to welcome the holy month of Ramadan.” — Molly Solomon, OPB reporter
- Protests and rallies sparked by Donald Trump’s election carried into 2017. In June, a pro-Trump rally in Portland led to clashes with groups with opposing viewpoints. And arrests were made. But it was how one arrest was made at that June rally that caused controversy. An OPB producer photographed an arrest that showed a man at the Trump rally helping police arrest a counter-protester.
“I just happened to be standing on the sidewalk when this arrest went down and I fired off my camera to capture it, but my attention was quickly drawn to other matters. It was only later, as I was flipping back through my photos, that I realized there might be a bigger story here.
“Turns out, my instincts were right. This story opened my eyes to the complex legalities surrounding citizens’ arrests and jurisdiction. Turns out, it’s both more simple and more complex than most of us probably assume. The image also sparked a federal investigation into what happened that day.”
— Bryan M. Vance, OPB digital producer and photographer
- To say America has a complex history with Native Americans would be a catastrophe of an understatement. To say the American education system positively caters to different cultural backgrounds may be worse. Chemawa Indian School falls into both categories as OPB reporters Rob Manning and Tony Schick spent years investigating troubling allegations against the Salem boarding school founded for young Native American students. Based on dozens of interviews with former staff, students, tribal advisers and parents, the investigation found that Chemawa is breaking its promise to support and educate Native students. Check out all five pieces from the OPB investigation, here.
“This was one of the most difficult pieces of reporting I’ve ever been involved in. Multiple times, I was supposed to put Chemawa reporting aside so I could focus solely on coverage of my beat — environmental news. But I couldn’t ignore it. The stories were too important. There are things about these students’ experiences I’ll never understand, but the people who told us their stories were so patient and so brave.” — Tony Schick, OPB/EarthFix reporter
“I feel that Tony and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the courageous and patient former staff members, parents and students who trusted OPB to share their experiences at Chemawa Indian School. Without them, there is no story. I believe their courage and trust fueled Tony and me (and our editors), as we struggled to understand the sensitive circumstances and complex bureaucracy that we invariably encountered in reporting these stories.” — Rob Manning, OPB reporter
- The Eagle Creek Fire started on a Saturday afternoon near Cascade Locks in early September. It slowly grew from 3,000 acres to 3,200 acres by Monday afternoon. By Tuesday morning the fire had jumped the Columbia River Gorge, sparking a smaller fire on the Washington side of the river. It was then officials declared a state of emergency in east Multnomah County.
“I had trouble sleeping the night before and woke up a few hours earlier than usual. When I opened up Twitter around 3 a.m. and saw what had happened overnight I was blown away by the sheer, explosive growth of the Eagle Creek Fire.
“Something that started from one person’s alleged action quickly grew into a blaze that threatened hundreds of people’s homes and some of the most beautiful scenic spots in Oregon. That’s when I really got the sense that this fire was going to have a very long tail.” — Bryan M. Vance, OPB producer and photographer
- Portland, Oregon: Known for things like its iconic Powell’s bookstore, a clothing-optional summer bike ride, overall wonky weirdness and to those really in the know, free stuff. On a nice day, you can travel around town and redecorate your place with an eclectic mix of throw-aways, hand-me-downs and treasures disguised as trash. And it’s free! But one web developer from Yakima, Washington, took documenting Portland’s free piles to another level.
“One time I saw a pile of dirt on the side of the road in Portland with a sign on it that said ‘FREE DIRT.’ It wasn’t even good dirt — it was filled with rocks and sticks and leaves. ‘Why would anyone want this?’ I thought. I couldn’t be the only one thinking this. I’d seen free piles in my neighborhood before, but free dirt?
“As soon as my editor Kim showed me #pdxfreecrap on Instagram, I knew I wasn’t alone. We’re all connected by stuff — some people have too much stuff and some people need more stuff.
“This story affects everyone! So when we published the story and Facebook comments and Twitter mentions rolled in, I was happy to finally have so many answers to my question.” — Bradley W. Parks, OPB digital producer and photographer
- After the killings of two people on a MAX train in May, hundreds gathered in Portland to stand up against hate. Although most were saddened and shocked, others were urging people to leave the gathering and make a change where they could. At one vigil several speakers accused the city of not doing enough to stop hate groups. And with recent events across the country, conversations about race, hate groups and cultural understanding may just be getting started.
“I remember getting the call about the attack from my editor late Friday night and I knew this was going to be a big story. The next day, Saturday, was incredibly surreal. Throughout the morning things moved quickly: there were several press conferences, we were finding out about the victims, the survivors, their stories. We were also learning more about the suspect arrested, Jeremy Christian. Someone I soon realized I had already met a month before.
“After seeing Christian’s mugshot, it hit me that he was the man I had spoken with a month earlier at a Trump rally and counter-protest on SE 82nd Avenue. Christian stood out for a lot of reasons: he had chains around his neck, was wearing an American flag as a cape, and was yelling hate speech and giving Nazi salutes.
“I kept my distance. But toward the end of the day, as I was walking back to my car, Christian approached me. He told me he was a big OPB fan and wanted to know when he could hear the story. I remember being surprised, both that he was an OPB listener and that he seemed a lot more relaxed and calm than he had at the protest. It made me wonder how someone could seem so normal in one moment and act the complete opposite in the next.
“I had never covered a breaking news event like this before and was not prepared for the weight of emotion and fear people carried on the days in the wake of the stabbings. At the Hollywood MAX station memorial, it was hard not to give in to tears. I saw people sobbing openly, and even other reporters covering the event wipe their eyes, as person after person stood up to say a few words before the crowd. They were families, witnesses, strangers all coming together in a very public way to mourn this horrific tragedy. A lot of people were in shock, asking how could this happen here? It’s a question I think a lot of Portlanders are still asking themselves as the city continues to heal.” — Molly Solomon, OPB reporter
- Multnomah Falls sees more than 2 million visitors per year, according to the U.S. Forest Service. But because of the massive wildfires that hit the Columbia River Gorge in September, Oregon’s most popular attraction was closed. At the time, experts said the falls and the old highway leading up to it were highly dangerous. The falls reopened on Nov. 29.
“When I went up there in a hard hat on a rainy fall day, I was surprised by how beautiful and eerie the falls were without any visitors. There were gift shop employees sorting out smoke-damaged goods and trying to tidy up their water-damaged shop. But there weren’t any children running around, or people smiling and looking up at the falls.
“It was still, so quiet and a bit sad. Just us few shared the beautiful place. To get there we had to drive around fallen rocks on the road like basketballs. With worries about landslides and falling stone that will linger for years ahead, the Eagle Creek Fire still isn’t over in many ways.” — Anna King, correspondent with the Northwest News Network.
- Usually, being the top priority is a positive. This was not the case when the National Interagency Fire Center labeled the Chetco Bar Fire the “top priority fire” in the country. The designation gave fire officials a better chance of receiving resources to combat the blaze. At megafire status, more than 1,000 personnel were battling the fire as it burned just under 100,000 acres.
“This was one of the largest fires I’ve ever covered. It displaced a good chunk of the local school district’s staff in Brookings and left hundreds of firefighters camped out on the fields of local schools.
“That tidbit led to an interesting story about how this fire sort of redefined the role of the district’s superintendent. He found himself attending morning fire briefings; he met with firefighters and fire managers. It was an interesting look at the unique ways fires disrupt the lives of everyday people.” — Ericka Cruz Guevarra, OPB reporter
Watch: Aerial footage of the Chetco Bar Fire region before the burn.
- When the Eagle Creek Fire began, officials quickly determined the massive fire was man-made. Soon after, a Portland woman came forward and said the fire was started by teenagers who she said laughed after throwing a firecracker into Eagle Creek Canyon. The aftermath of the public ranged from Oregonians wanting the teenager to be charged as an adult, to people empathizing with “kids being kids.” Regardless, the true victim in all of it was Mother Nature.
“It was powerful to hear an eye-witness account describe how the Eagle Creek Fire began. The fire was one of the most dramatic stories of the year that let residents in the Portland metro area experience something many around the state live with more often: smoke and the threat of wildfires. The wildfire was emotional to cover in part because of people’s strong connection to the Columbia River Gorge.” — Conrad Wilson, OPB reporter