An Oregon environmentalist who fought to protect the pristine Opal Creek Wilderness has been missing since a devastating wildfire swept through his home in the Oregon woods last week.
George Atiyeh, the 72-year-old activist and nephew of former Oregon Gov. Victor Atiyeh, was last seen on September 7 before the Beachie Creek Fire exploded overnight last week.
The fire began August 16 in the Opal Creek Wilderness, about 2 miles south of Jawbone Flats and 6 miles north of Detroit, Oregon, according to the US Forest Service's InciWeb system. A historic windstorm September 7 transformed the fire overnight from 469 acres to more than 131,000 acres.
In all, the fire has burned more than 191,000 acres, caused four deaths, injured three people and destroyed nearly 500 homes. The Beachie Creek Fire was still just 20% contained as of Thursday and is estimated to be fully contained at the end of October.
Dwayne Canfield, the executive director of the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, told CNN in an email Thursday that he last spoke with Atiyeh the Monday before the fire exploded.
"I did urge him to leave, and he said it was only a level two evacuation so he didn't need to yet," Canfield said in an email.
The Opal Creek Wilderness is a 20,000-acre refuge of steep and rugged forested hillsides boasting Douglas fir trees, creeks, mountain peaks and lookouts, according to the Forest Service.
The wilderness refuge was protected by federal legislation in 1996 after activists, including Atiyeh, pushed back against plans to open the area for logging.
Scott Fogarty, a longtime friend of Atiyeh, said Thursday he was holding out hope that his friend survived the fire and escaped to the local river.
"So in my mind's eye, he's potentially sitting on one of those shelves, those benches in the water, the natural rock benches in the water and hopefully, you know, he's going to be able to either head downriver at some point, or once the fire subsides completely he'll be able to walk up out of there," Fogarty said.
"That's my hope."