View from the convent: Blackened scree shows how close the fire came to the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Bridal Veil. (Sr. Grace Marie Horan/Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist)
View from the convent: Blackened scree shows how close the fire came to the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in Bridal Veil. (Sr. Grace Marie Horan/Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist)
BRIDAL VEIL — Flames licked within 15 feet of their convent driveway, but the building was untouched. For the second time in 26 years, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist averted a forest fire racing through the windy Columbia River Gorge.

The sisters, who founded Franciscan Montessori Earth School 40 years ago, moved back into their hillside convent Sept. 16.

“We can only be grateful,” said Sister Marcia Ternes, superior of the community.

A Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputy knocked on the sisters’ door at 9 p.m. on Labor Day saying it was time to go. The 10 women took the monstrance that holds the Eucharist, blew out the sanctuary candle and headed out the door. As the Eagle Creek fire grew and spread, members of St. Henry Parish took them in.

“The people were very, very, very generous,” Sister Marcia said. “They and Father Charles (Zach) couldn’t have been more hospitable.”

It was disorienting for a community accustomed to praying together at dawn and in the evening. As the name of the community indicates, their life is fueled by frequent meditation before the Eucharist.

The same rain that slowed the fire caused some flooding on the property, a century-old villa the sisters and some Redemptorists restored in the 1970s. But the soggy conditions didn’t dampen spirits as the Franciscans gathered around their dinner table for the first time in 12 days.

A 1991 fire came close to the convent as well.

Camp Howard, the other large Catholic property in the area, is still safe. South of the flames, the area is smoky but not in danger and no evacuations have been ordered there.

Sister Krista von Borstel, executive director of Catholic Youth Organization/Camp Howard, was driving along Washington Highway 14 during the blaze, looking across the river at the blaze.

“The hills were lit up,” she says.

The fire began on Labor Day weekend, apparently when teens were using fireworks in the area.