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Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Senior Fish Hatchery Technician Colby Gonzales releases a salmon transported from Galesville Reservoir into a holding pool at Rock Creek Hatchery in this 2018 file photo. Officials say they will be trying to assess the damage done to the hatchery done by the Archie Creek Fire in the coming days and weeks.

Officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife feared the worst Thursday afternoon after heavy damage caused by the Archie Creek Fire was reported at the nearly century-old Rock Creek Hatchery east of Idleyld Park.

Meghan Dugan, a spokesperson for the ODFW’s Roseburg office, said the damage was a “devastating loss.” She said each of the buildings at the facility, except for the Rock Ed Education Center, suffered either severe damage or were completely destroyed.

“We’ll be assessing the damage and next steps in the coming days and weeks as we get back onto the property when it’s safe to do so,” she said.

The hatchery, located at 425 McCarn Lane near Idleyld Park not far from Rock Creek Road, remains under a Level 3 evacuation order. That means anyone in the area is encouraged to either evacuate as soon as possible or avoid the area altogether. Residents living on Rock Creek Road were told to evacuate on Tuesday morning.

Evacuation orders were given when the fire originated near Susan Creek Road as the Star Mountain Fire before it merged with the current Archie Creek Fire, which originated near Steamboat. Although the cause of the fire remains under investigation, it had consumed more than 115,000 acres by Friday morning.

Tim Walters, the Umpqua Watershed district manager for ODFW, was uncertain how many fish had perished as a result of the blaze but admitted the number of fish at the hatchery was substantial.

He said the hatchery housed an estimated 160,000 winter steelhead, 67,000 coho salmon, 29,000 rainbow trout and between 170,000 and 180,000 chinook salmon. Walters said those numbers accounted for the juveniles at the hatchery and didn’t account for any of the facility’s adult fish. He said the fire struck so quickly that there wasn’t time for on-site staff to release any fish into the North Umpqua River before evacuating.

“It’s a pretty dire situation,” he said.

Dugan confirmed the uncertainty of the loss, adding: “We don’t know the full extent of the damage and fish loss, as the area is still under Level 3 evacuation and is unsafe to enter.”

The current Rock Creek Hatchery was constructed in 1925 and sits across the North Umpqua River from an earlier trout hatchery that was built in 1920, according to the ODFW’s website. A state-of-the-art fish passage ladder was constructed in 2012 and included a fish viewing window for Rock Creek basin fish inventory and a fish trap facility.

More recently, approximately 165,000 winter steelhead from the hatchery were released as part of a multi-year study the ODFW is doing to improve winter steelhead fishing. The organization inserted coded wire tags into snouts to track fish movements from the chosen acclimation sites in Canyonville, where the third of three releases took place in April.

Michelle Dennehy, a spokesperson for the ODFW’s main office in Salem, said other western Oregon hatcheries that have been evacuated include Clackamas, Marion Forks, Minto, McKenzie, Leaburg, and Salmon River. The Klamath hatchery in eastern Oregon was also evacuated.

Jon Mitchell is a page designer, photographer and writer for The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4214, or at jmitchell@nrtoday.com. Or follow him on Twitter @byJonMitchell.

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