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Gorge fire nearly 31,000 acres; cooler weather aids crews

Multnomah Falls Lodge saved; fire slows down

HOOD RIVER, Ore. - (Update: Fire grows to 30,000 acres; crews save Multnomah Falls Lodge)

Despite a dramatically larger size, managers on the 30,000-acre Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge had some good news to report Wednesday, including more moderate fire behavior and saving the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge.

Here's Wednesday's update:

Tuesday was a quieter day on the Eagle Creek Fire. The fire did not make large runs or show the extreme fire behavior it did the night before. With the shift to westerly winds, the southeast corner of the fire, near Indian Mountain, became more active with some crown runs. An infrared flight last night mapped the fire at 30,929 acres. The Archer Mountain Fire north of the Columbia River is 112 acres and is being managed by a Washington Department of Natural Resources Type 3 Team.

The historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, built in 1925, is being protected by Oregon State Fire Marshal's structural firefighters. Several structural engines and one aerial ladder truck have been working with water tenders to keep the lodge wetted down. Visit the Eagle Creek and Indian Creek Fires Facebook page to see pictures of the lodge.

Ian Yocum, Incident Commander with the Oregon State Fire Marshal said firefighters were successful in additional structure protection efforts yesterday. An unused residential structure was found to have burned the night before, along with 4 outbuildings, but no further structures were lost.

Today, fire personnel between Bridge of the Gods and Bonneville Dam will be conducting burning operations to remove fuels between the dozer lines and the fire edge near Cascade Locks, starting at 7:30 a.m. This will cause an increased visibility of smoke in the area, but is essential in helping to provide for community and firefighter safety.

Defending private property, historical structures in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, the various State Parks in the area and the Bull Run Watershed will continue to be top priorities for firefighters.

I-84 remains closed from Troutdale to Hood River due to rocks, snags and other debris the roadway. Oregon Department of Transportation will be working closely with the Unified Command team to determine when it will be safe to open.

The winds have shifted to the west, bringing cooler and moister air to the fire area. The wind shift could push the fire to the east, especially in the higher elevations in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. A Fire Weather Watch is in effect this afternoon for potential lightning.

For real time and current evacuation information, please contact the Multnomah, Hood River, or Skamania County Sheriff's Offices.

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Earlier info:

Oregon State Police confirmed Tuesday that a 15-year-old Vancouver, Washington boy is believed to have been in a group using fireworks that started the fire.

The teen was contacted by police in the parking lot of the Eagle Creek Trailhead and interviewed after the fire began Saturday.

OSP is seeking witnesses or others with information about the fire’s cause to come forward. Anyone who heard fireworks or other explosions in the area of the Eagle Creek Trail/Punch Bowl Falls between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday is urged to contact OSP at 503-375-3555.

Troopers emphasized that the investigation is continuing and no arrests or formal charges have been made. They said the teen’s name won’t be released at this time.

OSP is being assisted by the U.S. Forest Service, Hood River District Attorney's Office, US Attorney's Office and the Hood River Juvenile Department.

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Earlier info:

The Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge exploded across more than 10,000 acres late Monday and early Tuesday, fueled by heat and winds and forcing evacuations, continued closure of a 45-mile stretch of Interstate 84 and a call-up of 10 structure protection task forces.

The growth of the fire, which blew up Saturday and trapped 150 hikers for a time, led to the closure of I-84, the major east-west thoroughfare through the Columbia River Gorge, initially from four miles east of Multnomah Falls to two miles west of Hood River (Exit 35 to 62). 

The U.S. Coast Guard has closed the Columbia River to all vessel traffic east of Portland because of wildfire activity in the Columbia River Gorge.

The Coast Guard said Tuesday the closure affecting 20 miles of the river would be in effect overnight to protect personnel and boats from potential hazards created by falling hot ash and firefighting aircraft landing on the water.

The section of the Columbia River was closed after the Captain of the Port deemed it unsafe for vessels to travel the river from Reed Island to the Bonneville Dam.

The Coast Guard says some vessel traffic has been impacted and that the need for the closure will be re-evaluated Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, Oregon fisheries managers have released thousands of hatchery salmon months early in response to the fire.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday it released the fish into the Columbia River to reduce demands on water and equipment.

Workers released about 600,000 tule fall Chinook salmon Tuesday and four ponds of fall Chinook salmon Monday night.

The three fish hatchery facilities in Cascade Locks were evacuated over Labor Day weekend. The facilities have been used as a firefighting and staging area. Supplies at the hatcheries, including water and power, are helping wildfire efforts.

Officials say all hatchery workers are safe. No structures have been damaged.

The facilities are rearing about six million fish, mostly coho and Chinook salmon.

Around 8:30 p.m. Monday came word from ODOT the I-84 closure had expanded, with all eastbound traffic required to exit at Exit 17 in Troutdale and westbound traffic at Exit 62 in Hood River. Eastbound traffic was being urged to either take Highway 26 over Mt. Hood or Oregon Highway 35 north to I-84 at Hood River. Westbound traffic can cross the Columbia River into Washington and head west on State Route 14 to I-205 and take the Glenn Jackson Bridge south to Oregon.

"The road will reopen when ODOT, law enforcement, the U.S. Forest Service and fire officials determine that the road is again safe," the traffic alert stated.

Officials said the fire surged west and that the temperature was still 91 degrees at 1 a.m., with a relative humidity of 24 percent and easterly winds 13-16 mph with gusts to 25 mph. By 2 a.m., the fire had spotted across the Columbia River into Washington, sparking a fire near Archer Mountain.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office called up four structure protection task forces overnight and sent to assist six others who were working through the night. More crews arrived overnight for Tuesday deploymen.

So far, officials said there have been no known residential structural losses.

The brisk east winds were expected to continue Tuesday, with higher humidity.;

As of 7 a.m. Tuesday, the list of evacuations also had grown, according to the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office:

Warrendale - Level 3 GO! 
Dodson - Level 3 GO! 
Larch Mountain- Level 3 GO! 
Latourell- Level 3 GO! 
Bridal Veil - Level 3 GO! 
East Corbett - Level 3 GO! 
Corbett - Level 2 Be Set. 
Springdale- Level 2 Be Set. 

The latest info on the fire can be found at: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5584/

Road updates can be found at the ODOT TripCheck page at http://www.ktvz.com/weather/roads

Winds pushed the fire west on Monday and smoke blew over much of the gorge and Portland metro area. Residents as far west as Portland and Vancouver reported ash falling. Portland's air quality diminished to unhealthy for everyone on Monday.

Level 3 evacuation orders were given to two communities, Warrendale and Dodson, Monday evening, meaning residents need to leave. Those communities were under Level 1 evacuation warnings Monday morning, meaning they should gather up valuables in anticipation of an evacuation. At Level 2, residents should monitor news media and police reports and social media.

Around the same time, the Hood River County Sheriff's Office said all prior Level 1 evacuation notices in Cascade Locks have been upgraded to Level 2, meaning to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

 Level 2 notices covered all areas north of Wa Na Pa to the Columbia River. On the east end of town, Level 2 covered north of I-84 to the river. That included Forest Lane and intersecting roads, running east to Government Cove.

The American Red Cross opened a shelter for Warrendale and Dodson evacuees at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.

The fire caused ashes to drift onto the town of Cascade Locks, a quarter-mile away. Evacuation orders remain for 283 structures, including 15 businesses.

Much of Oregon is under a haze of smoke as dozens of wildfires burn.

In the Willamette National Forest in alone, officials said Monday 16 fires covering 45,670 acres are burning. The Forest Service says campfires are banned and that a third of the forest is closed.

Evacuations were ordered amid another fire, in southwest Oregon, in a rural area near the town of Cave Junction.

A heat wave and winds have made conditions worse for firefighters, and for residents across the state that was under a pall of smoke.

Reports on all major Oregon wildfires can be found at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/38/


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