Salem Statesman Journal
Published 6:43 PM EDT Sep 12, 2020
One of the most important voices of the environmental movement and the guardian of Opal Creek is missing, and friends and family are concerned.
George Atiyeh, 72, the nephew of former Gov. Vic Atiyeh, has been missing since the Beachie Creek Fire began spreading, his daughter said on Facebook.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Atiyeh family is officially listing George Atiyeh as a missing person in the Beachie Creek Fire,” his daughter, Aniese Mitchell, wrote on Facebook. “His house and property were a total loss. Search parties have been through the area of his last known location. If anyone has any information regarding him please contact the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.”
The family is asking for privacy during this incredibly difficult time, she said.
Atiyeh’s close friend Michael Donnelly said he was preparing to leave as the wildfires began to pick up steam.
“Last I heard, he was telling everyone he was going to leave,” Donnelly said. “He had packed his truck. Of course, knowing George that doesn’t mean that he didn’t intend to stay anyway.”
Atiyeh was staying at a cabin in the Elkhorn area when the Beachie Creek Fire swept out of the Opal Creek Wilderness and burned across the forest, meeting up with a different wildfire that had ignited on downed power lines in the Santiam Canyon.
The cabin was burned to the ground, Donnelly said.
“At this point, I’m expecting the worst,” Donnelly said. “He would have at least checked in by now.”
Feature story: George Atiyeh: Guardian of Opal Creek
Atiyeh, who fought for decades to protect the Opal Creek area from logging based at his family’s property at Jawbone Flats, is widely credited with preserving the area as it stands today.
“I did things that were less than legal — I was willing to do anything,” Atiyeh told the Statesman Journal in a 12-part series on the history of Opal Creek. “My life wasn’t so important compared to this place, this forest.”
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has been searching the Little North Santiam Canyon for survivors. At least four people have been found deceased in the area.
Oregon wildfires: Dozens reported missing, officials prepare for ‘mass fatality incident’
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Zach Urness has been an outdoors reporter, photographer and videographer in Oregon for 12 years. To support his work, subscribe to the Statesman Journal.
Urness can be reached at [email protected] or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.