Eagle Creek Fire at 33,000 acres, has 'slowed way down'

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TROUTDALE, Ore. -- The Eagle Creek wildfire that has forced hundreds of evacuations and closed miles of Interstate 84 east of Portland is at 32,929 acres and is 0 percent contained, said Lt. Damon Simmons, a spokesman with Portland Fire & Rescue.

The increase in acreage -- the fire had been estimated at 20,000 acres Tuesday night -- is more of a correction than an indication that the fire has grown, Simmons said during a Wednesday morning news conference. An infrared flight was able to go over the fire, which gave officials more exact numbers.

The Eagle Creek Fire and nearby 1,000-acre Indian Creek Fire have combined, but Simmons said the fire didn't make a hard push in either direction Tuesday. On Tuesday night, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office said fire officials "are indicating that the fire has slowed way down for now."

The last new evacuation order was issued early Tuesday afternoon. In addition to the evacuations in Multnomah County, Hood River County has closed all forestland for recreational use.

About 600 emergency personnel are fighting the Eagle Creek wildfire. Crews have been focusing on containing the fire, improving fire lines and increasing space around structures.

The western edge of the fire had not advanced as far as originally thought, Simmons said. It is currently about a half-mile south of Interstate 84.

The fire destroyed one home in the Warrendale area, but Simmons said he didn't have an exact location. Some outbuildings (any structure that is not a home) also burned in the same area.

Simmons also said he has driven through the gorge, and though he said it is still a dangerous drive at this time, the forest remains intact.

"The gorge still looks like the gorge," he said. "It's not a wasteland."

KGW meteorologist Rod Hill said Wednesday morning that light west winds in the gorge should help stop the flow of wildfire smoke into Portland. And he said the winds should calm down for firefighters battling the Eagle Creek blaze through Wednesday afternoon. But gusty winds could pick back up again late Wednesday. 

Expecting light west winds in the gorge today which should thin Portland's smoke. Gusty wind concerns tonight.

Posted by KGW Rod Hill on Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Simmons said in the case that westerly winds push the fire Wednesday, they have resources in place with 600 firefighters ready to go at a moment's notice, which many already positioned in place.

Watch: Time lapse of fire growth

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The blaze, started Saturday evening by a 15-year-old boy playing with a firework, has forced the shutdown of more than 30 miles of I-84 through the scenic Columbia River Gorge, between Troutdale and Hood River. Trucks heading westbound are being detoured off the highway at The Dalles.

See latest traffic updates from Tripcheck

Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Don Hamilton said the freeway is closed due to poor visibility from smoke and the fire getting closer to the road. He said they will work with fire officials to determine when to reopen the road. 

On the Washington side of the gorge, trucks over 10,000 lbs. (gross) are prohibited from driving between Washougal and Dallesport on State Route 14 due to the fire. But transportation officials asked all drivers to avoid SR-14 altogether if possible.

Early Tuesday morning, embers from the fire caused a new blaze across the Columbia River in Washington, called the Archer Mountain Fire. As of Wednesday morning, that fire had increased from 25 to 60 acres. About 75 firefigthers are battling that blaze. No structures are threatened at this time.

The U.S. Coast Guard has closed the Columbia River to all vessel traffic east of Portland to Bonneville Dam.

Photos: Fire in Gorge

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In Oregon, the Eagle Creek Fire reached the boundary of the Bull Run Watershed, but it is not close to any infrastructure or the drinking water reservoirs, according to the Portland Water Bureau. Water from Bull Run serves more than 950,000 people in the Portland metro area. The water bureau is prepared to switch to its secondary water supply if needed.

As winds pushed the fire west, smoke was blown over much of the gorge and Portland metro area. Residents as far west as Hillsboro reported ash falling. An air quality warning is in effect in the area through Friday afternoon.

Photos: Ash falling in Portland metro area

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Evacuation Orders

Level 3 evacuations have forced people from approximately 400 homes.

On Tuesday, authorities issued a Level 1 evacuation order for people living in east Troudale. Residents east of 257th Avenue, north of Stark Street and west of the Sandy River should get ready for a possible evacuation.

In Washington, Skamania County officials announced Tuesday morning a new fire had started near Archer Mountain, above the Prindle area, and Level 3 evacuations were in place for Archer Mountain Road-Smith Crops and Deville Road.

Several schools in evacuation areas are closed. Click here for list of school updates

Level 3 evacuation orders, meaning residents should leave immediately, have been ordered for the following communities as of Wednesday morning:

Oregon (About 400 homes)

  • Warrendale
  • Dodson
  • Larch Mountain
  • Latourell
  • Bridal Veil
  • Corbett (East of the 38700 block of Columbia River Highway)

Washington

  • Archer Mt. Road
  • Franz Road
  • Smith Cripe Road
  • Kellet Road
  • Victoria Lane

Level 2 evacuation orders, meaning residents should be ready to leave at a moment's notice, have been issued for the following communities:

Oregon (About 850 homes)

  • Parts of Cascade Locks
  • Corbett/Springdale (West of 37800 block of the Columbia River Highway to the Sandy River)

Level 1 evacuation orders, meaning people should get ready for a potential evacuation, have been issued for:

Oregon (About 3,400 homes)

  • East Troutdale (East of 257th Avenue, north of Stark Street and west of the Sandy River)

Red Cross shelters are set up at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham, the Skamania County Fairgrounds in Stevenson, Washington.

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The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office says fire onlookers are hindering rescue operations. Officials are asking people to not drive into areas impacted by the fire.

Read more: How to help those impacted by the Eagle Creek Fire

Suspect identified

On Tuesday, Oregon State Police said the person suspected of starting the Eagle Creek Fire is a 15-year-old Vancouver boy. They said they believe the teen and others were using fireworks near the Eagle Creek Trail.

No arrests have been made yet. OSP is asking for more tips from witnesses who may have seen the boys that day.

One witness, Kevin Marnell, told KGW he heard a firework go off when he was hiking the trail Saturday. He also sent a video to KGW of officers speaking with a group of teenagers on Saturday night near the trailhead.

WATCH: Witness Kevin Marnell speaks with KGW

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Another witness, Liz FitzGerald, told KGW that she saw young hikers laugh as they threw a firecracker into the Eagle Creek Canyon.

The investigation into the cause of the fire is being conducted by the Oregon State Police, U.S. Forest Service, Hood River Sheriff's Office, Hood River District Attorney's Office and fire personnel.

More: OSP says 15-year-old is suspect

Hikers rescued

More than 150 hikers were forced to spend the night in the mountains east of Portland made it down the trail to safety on Sunday.

Deputy Joel Ives said all of the hikers were accounted for. One hiker was taken out by ambulance for exhaustion and dehydration.

RELATED: 'Just want to cry with relief': Families, stranded hikers reunite

Many of the hikers had gone up the Eagle Creek Trail on Saturday to swim at the popular waterfalls and pools when the fire broke out below them at around 4:30 p.m.

The hikers found themselves trapped between the new Eagle Creek Fire and the older Indian Creek Fire, which had been burning to the south since July 4. Firefighters have not been able to work on the fire directly due to steep, unsafe conditions. 

Get the latest wildfire updates here

The only way to get the hikers out was through a longer, more difficult 14-mile route. With daylight fading on Saturday night, officials told them spend the night near Tunnel Falls. Mountain Wave Search & Rescue dropped supplies to the hikers.

Sky 8 video: Fire burns in Columbia River Gorge

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Mountain Wave Search & Rescue president Russ Gubele said search and rescue teams headed up the second trail on Sunday morning and led the hikers out the 14 miles toward Wahtum Lake.

The first group made it out by about 10:30 a.m. and the last group by about 1 or 1:30 p.m.

"It's horribly smoky," Gubele said. "Ash is coming down. It's like a Mount Saint Helens eruption all over again."

On Saturday, 14 hikers were brought out and returned to Eagle Creek and three hikers were rescued by National Guard helicopter.

Watch: Helicopter rescues trapped hiker

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Important phone numbers

  • Inciweb general info about fire: 541-392-1631
  • Hood River County Evacuation information: 541-387-6911
  • Multnomah County Emergency Evacuation info: 503-823-2323

© 2017 KGW-TV


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