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4,100 damaged trees have been cut down along the Columbia River Gorge freeway.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Rock scalers work on removing hazardous, fire-damaged trees Thursday morning from a hillside at Tooth Rock, just a few hundred yards west of Eagle Creek. Interstate 84 eastbound through the Columbia River Gorge will be opened by late Sunday, Sept. 24, or early Monday, authorities say. The freeway's westbound lanes have been opened for the past week after the Eagle Creek wildfire forced its closure earlier in the month.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Interstate 84 eastbound, shown here at the Tooth Rock Tunnel near Eagle Creek, remains closed to vehicle traffic, likely until late Sunday or early Monday morning, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.Oregon Department of Transportation officials say almost all of eastbound I-84 will be open to public — except on a short segment of road near Shell Rock Mountain, where traffic will be routued onto westbound I-84.

The change to one lane of traffic moving in each direction will occur near Milepost 56, because the eastbound lanes in that area are too close to steep hillsides that have been destabilized by the still-smoldering fire.

"We've got some continuing threats from the mountain (that) could come down on the eastbound lanes," explained ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton. "So we're trying to get eastbound traffic a little bit removed in that area."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Oneonta Gorge is now scarred by the Eagle Creek Fire in a mosaic-like pattern. Local news reporters saw the rocky terrain for themselves during a guided tour on Thursday, Sept. 21, where contracted workers chucked tree roots, rocks and other debris down a slope above the shuttered Historic Columbia River Highway near Toothrock Tunnel.

The Historic Highway remains closed for good reason. Metal guardrails displayed the aftermath of blunt-force impacts likely caused by falling rocks or trees. News crews even spotted a burning tree, despite the heavy downpours in recent days.

Up above, workers known as rock-scalers were targeting downed trees, loose rock and still-standing dead timber, or snags. Using ropes to move around the steep grade, workers unceremoniously dumped trees blackened by fire or uprooted from the soil on the road.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Oregon Department of Transportation officials estimate more than 4,100 hazard trees have so far been removed from Columbia River Gorge hillsides in the wake of the Eagle Creek Fire. "We've had good conditions (on) a fairly good day. Smaller crews have been able to get up there and take down the final hazards," reported Tom Braibish, an ODOT geotechnical engineer who was supervising a crew of eight workers from Triptych Construction.

Braibish said the rock scalers highest priorities also included McCord Creek to the west, where another bridge was located neary rocky slopes.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Historic Columbia River Highway remains closed indefinitely following the Eagle Creek Fire, as crews work to remove hazardous trees and rocks to prevent them from damaging bridges and other amenities, like the guardrail shown here overlooking Interstate 84 at the Eagle Creek exit.Some 4,100 fire-damaged trees have been cut down along I-84, and many have been collected in a grassy median near Ainsworth State Park.

Rachel Pawlitz, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said many of the logs wood be mulched, though some could be used for trail restoration or helping to protect fish spawning areas.

"One of the key things about logs that make them so great for fish habitats is that, basically, fish like complexity," she said. "Fish like places to hide."

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Oneonta Tunnel was restored in 2009 and reopened to the public. Now, just eight years later, it has been ravaged by the Eagle Creek Fire. Local media representatives also viewed Oneonta Tunnel, a historic piece of infrastructure that was scorched during the first days of the allegedly human-sparked blaze.

Rachel Dinwiddie, another ODOT spokesman, said there's a "possibility" the reinforced-concrete lined tunnel may collapse.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The iconic Oneonta Tunnel, gutted by the recent Eagle Creek Fire, now faces the danger of collapse. "The tunnel has been burned from the inside ... The timbers are almost entirely been burned," she noted. "Our plan is to get the roads open first, Interstate 84 and eventually the Historic Columbia River Highway. That's where ODOT is putting its focus right now.

"The timelines for the tunnel is undetermined at this time. What we have to do is figure out how to pay for it," she continued.

Dinwiddie said the agency would approach the Federal Highway Administration for additional funds to repair the tunnel, which was re-opened to the pedestrian and bike-riding public in 2009.

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