Amid deadly wildfires, conservation icon missing in forest he fought to preserve

The man credited with leading the fight to preserve the Opal Creek Wilderness is missing as the Beachie Creek Fire continues to burn.

Posted: Sep 19, 2020 10:28 PM
Updated: Sep 19, 2020 10:33 PM

LYONS, Ore. — More than a week after the Beachie Creek Fire, fueled by extreme winds, exploded in size to become the largest of several burning in Oregon, Marion County authorities confirm one person remains missing in the area.

He's the same man credited with leading the fight to preserve the very forest that, fellow stewards fear, may have been destroyed.

Scott Fogarty, longtime friend of George Atiyeh and former director of Friends of Opal Creek, described the two as "inextricably intertwined."

Atiyeh, nephew of former Oregon Gov. Vic Atiyeh, is 72 years old and hasn't been seen since before the fire swept through the Opal Creek Wilderness, a federally protected area within the Willamette National Forest.

Marion County officials announced on Friday that humans remains were found on his property, however, no positive identification has been made.

Scott Fogarty talked to Atiyeh on Friday, Sept. 4.

"I did call him because of the fire because ... it had recently grown, but not grown to a level that was one that he felt that he needed to evacuate," Fogarty said in an interview Thursday. "It was just one of our normal conversations, kind of jovial. We like to make fun of each other."

The following Monday, Sept. 7, the fire erupted in size. Fogarty confirmed search crews went to Atiyeh's house, which sits in the Opal Creek Wilderness along North Fork Road. There was no sign of Atiyeh, a fact, more than a week later, that gives loved ones hope.

"I'm buoyed by the fact that he wasn't there," Fogarty said. "It tells me that he was a student enough to leave the scene and hopefully go to a safe place."

Sgt. Jeremy Landers with the Marion County Sheriff's Office said Thursday crews have been looking for Atiyeh as safely possible, a job that was recently turned over to National Urban Search & Rescue teams.

Atiyeh’s family has asked for privacy.

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