Eagle Creek Fire growth slows, one home lost

September 6, 2017

MORNING BRIEFING EAGLE CREEK FIRE  - 6:00 PM

Eagle Creek Fire growth slows, one home lost

The Eagle Creek and Indian Creek fires in the Columbia River Gorge have now merged and have burned an estimated 32,929 acres, according to Oregon Fire Marshall spokesman Damon Simmons.

While the number of acres is larger than in earlier reports, Simmons said, it is based on the first accurate estimate from an infrared flight, not growth overnight. “Last night the fire basically hung out and burned at a moderate intensity,” Simmons said at a Wednesday morning briefing. “It was a best case scenario.”

Oregon State Marshal Spokesperson Damon Simmons

One residence has been lost, in the Warrendale-Dodson area, with about 600 firefighters fighting the blaze. After driving through the Gorge on the Oregon side today, Simmons said, “It is not a wasteland.”

“There are trees everywhere that look good,” he said. “Of course, there are impacted trees that will need to be removed and rocks have fallen on the road that will need to be cleared.”

The fire’s western edge is east of Crown Point and the southern edge at the west is about a half-mile south of I-84. In Cascade Locks, at the east edge of the fire, crews set an intentional burn today to create a fire break to prevent the fire from spreading east. Simmons noted that the burn will create smoke, but should not alarm the public.

The fire is still zero percent contained, because crews have not established a hard boundary to stop it. Simmons hoped containment would happen soon, if weather is favorable.

“Fire crews got good space around structures last night, improving fire lines they’ve been digging,” Simmons said. “We have resources pre-positioned to deal with fire if winds blow from west to east.”

Noting the significance of the fire’s location in a national scenic area, Traci Weaver, of the U.S. Forest Service, said "People are very concerned. This is a treasured landscape that people all over the world value. We want to assure them we’re working with all our partners to contain this fires as soon as possible and limit the impacts to our national scenic area and the people who live and recreate there.’’

No new evacuations

No new evacuation orders for the Eagle Creek and Indian Creek fires were issued Tuesday night, Lt. Chad Gaidos of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said.

All current evacuations remained in place Wednesday morning, Gaidos said.

“We constantly are reviewing evacuation orders,” Gaidos said. “It’s important that you know we understand the priority to get back into your homes and see what’s there. And we want to do that, but we must do it safely.”

Gaidos also cautioned people against staying in homes where a Level 3 evacuation notice has been issued, even if they believe they are capable of fighting a fire on their own.

Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Lt. Chad Gaidos updates the media.

“We would urge anyone in a Level 3 evacuation to please leave,” Gaidos said. “This fire has been unpredictable and that is our cause for concern. Your safety is our number one priority.”

Gaidos said search and rescue teams are still in place and prepared if the fire shifts direction.

Responding to reports of looting, Gaidos said police presence has increased in areas where homes and business have been evacuated. Officers are on the lookout for safety issues and suspicious people and vehicles, he said.

“The police presence that is out in this area now is at least double, if not three times, what normally would be,” Gaidos said. “We will get you back into those homes as soon as it is safe to do so and we appreciate your patience."

Air quality remains a health concern

Air quality continues to be unhealthy for young children, the elderly and people with chronic heart and lung disease, such as asthma and emphysema, Dr. Jennifer Vines said Wednesday.

That is a slight improvement from Tuesday when air quality was unhealthy for everyone in the region impacted by smoke from the Eagle Creek and Indian Creek fires. Vines, a family physician and public health officer for the Multnomah County Health Department, cautioned, however, that the fire is dynamic and the air quality could change.

Most concerning, Vines said, are small particulates, which can penetrate deep into the lungs and also can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

Vines said the best way to avoid exposure to small particulate matter is to stay indoors, ideally in an air-conditioned building.

Multnomah County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines updates the media

“If you have to be outdoors, try to avoid intensive exercise,” Vines said.

Surgical masks and dust masks, which are the easiest and most comfortable to wear, don’t do much to keep out small particles, Vines said.

Meanwhile, heavy-duty mask respirators also are not a guaranteed solution because they need to be sealed properly around the face and checked by an expert to ensure proper use.

“So a member of the public buying this mask and putting it on might get some benefits, but they might not if they don’t get a good seal, if they don’t have a good fit or if they have facial hair,” Vines said.

Those masks can also be uncomfortable to wear, make it hard to breathe and can contribute to overheating.

“So, by far the steps the public should be taking around the air quality question is to stay inside,” Vines said. “Any indoor air is better than outdoor.”

“A lot of natural beauty is left standing”

Multnomah County District 4 Commissioner Lori Stegmann thanked the first responders and volunteers fighting the fire, going door-to-door to evacuate people and tending to the needs of people in shelters.

“This is an unprecedented event,” said Stegmann, whose district includes Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale, Corbett and unincorporated areas of Multnomah County.

Stegmann said she has been amazed by the outpouring of support since the fire began.

“I’ve received calls and messages from people across the country expressing their concern for our beloved Gorge,” Stegman said. “And I just want to them to know -- for all those who love the Gorge -- that we are doing everything in our power to protect the lives, the property, the livestock and our beloved landmarks, like the Vista House, the (Bonneville) Fish Hatchery and the Lodge at Multnomah Falls.”

Stegmann also expressed optimism about the future of the Gorge.

“A lot of natural beauty is left standing,” she said.

Emergency shelters open, evacuees grateful

About 225 Columbia Gorge residents spent Tuesday night at shelters at Mount Hood Community College in Gresham and the Skamania County Fairground in Stevenson, WA.  

At a Wednesday morning briefing in Troutdale, Monique Dugaw of the American Red Cross Cascades Region reported that evacuees were grateful. She thanked the community for their generous support.

Monique Dugaw, American Red Cross Cascade Region

“We’re providing food, water and shelter and we will continue to do so while there is a need,” Dugaw said. She urged evacuees to stay in a shelter so their basic needs can be met while they wait to return home.

About 75 evacuees spent Tuesday night at Mount Hood Community College. Dugaw said evacuees were in general “hopeful and grateful.”

“Most come in with just the clothes on their back and whatever they could grab and load in their personal vehicle,” Dugaw said. “One woman came in with only baby pictures, because that was what she most wanted to preserve.”  

Shelters can accommodate pets.

The Red Cross expects the number of evacuees in shelters to grow, but Dugaw said both shelters have room for more guests. Plans are in place if more shelters are needed. 

“We’re confident we are in a good location for now.”

Dugaw said that the Portland area has been generous like no other community we’ve seen. "If you want to donate and assist evacuees," she continued, "please give a financial donation rather than goods, which sometimes create more work for us to deal with. Donations can be made to the Red Cross or other trusted non-profits that provide emergency support."

"For evacuees, this is their worst day. We will continue to be there for them as long as there is a need.”

For more information on local shelters and how to contribute, visit http://www.redcrossblog.org/2017/09/red-cross-delivering-help-and-hope-to.html.  

Health advisories for air quality apply to animals too.

At least 75 people with trailers hauled more than 400 animals to safety in less than 24 hours, according to representatives with Sound Equine Options (SEO), a member of the Animal MAC-G.    

The Multi-Agency Coordination Group or (MAC-G) deployed on Monday evening and continued through Tuesday as residents in the Columbia Gorge with horses, goats, sheep, chickens and other pets and livestock were asked to either evacuate or prepare for evacuation.  

The coalition helping Multnomah County Animal Services and made up of animal welfare agencies from Washington, Clackamas and Clark County Animal Services, the Oregon Humane Society, Sound Equine Options and more has specialized equipment and has worked together for years.

“We are so appreciative of the many offers to help animals impacted by the fires and evacuations in the Columbia Gorge,” said Randy Covey spokesperson on behalf of the group.

“The desire to help with this local disaster is clearly very strong. If the situation gets larger and there are more animals in need, we do have systems in place to request more help. Right now, our agencies are working well together to respond to the current needs.”  

Covey noted that SEO alone has received 500 messages, 600 phone calls and 1000 texts for help. The group is keeping a list of all of the offers of assistance and will contact those as necessary.

Meanwhile, the State’s Veterinary Office issued a health advisory for animals - emphasizing that if humans are experiencing reacting to toxins in the smoke, animals are too.

Signs of smoke or dust irritation in animals includes:

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Difficulty breathing, including open mouth breathing
  • Eye irritation and excessive watering
  • Inflammation of throat or mouth
  • Nasal discharge
  • ·Asthma-like symptoms
  • Increased breathing rate
  •  Fatigue or weakness

Tips to keep animals safe from wildfire smoke include:

  • Keep pets and pet birds indoors with the windows shut.
  • Avoid intense outdoor exercise during periods of poor air quality. Exercise pets when dust and smoke has settled.
  • Limit time outdoors for pets on days designated with a red air quality alert to quick potty breaks.
  • Pet birds need to remain indoors as much as possible during the highest level advisories.
  •  Animals that have cardiovascular or respiratory disease are at increased risk during periods of poor air quality and should be closely watched.
  • The State Veterinarian and OVMA remind pet owners to include animals under their care in planning for potential evacuation.
  • If your pet experiences breathing difficulties or eye irritation, consult your veterinarian.