Eagle Creek fire growth slows, other updates from evacuation zone

September 7, 2017

MORNING BRIEFING EAGLE CREEK FIRE - 9:00AM

The Eagle Creek Fire grew slightly to 33,382 acres Wednesday night, but firefighters at last have a portion of the wildfire contained, the Oregon Fire Marshal’s Office reported at a Thursday morning briefing in Troutdale.

“The fire laid down overnight,” spokesperson Damon Simmons said. The fire, with 928 firefighters battling it, is now 5 percent contained.

“It is the nation’s number one fire priority,” Simmons said.

Three homes have been lost to the fire, all in the Dodson-Warrendale area of the Columbia River Gorge in eastern Multnomah County. At least one home was occupied. No injuries are reported. Simmons said an estimated 1,865 residents have been affected by the fire, as evacuees or potential evacuees.

On a Thursday morning drive through the Gorge, Simmons saw signs of progress in taming the fire.

More than 900 firefighters are battling the Eagle Creek blaze

“I saw crews fighting the fire, doing prep work around houses, and ODOT crews clearing trees from roads. Logging crews are cutting hazard trees. If the good weather holds, we will make more progress in controlling the fire.”

Simmons emphasized that damage to the Gorge is very patchy. “It’s very much a mosaic burn: Some ridges have a lot of green trees standing, others have burned trees.” He noted significant damage to trails. The U.S. Forest Service and Scenic Area will be planning for trail restoration after the fire.

The weather forecast calls for winds of 10-15 mph coming from the west tonight, with a 20 percent chance of rain, and a red flag warning for lighting strikes through 11 p.m. “The air is clearer today,” Simmons said, “so we will be able to use air support.” He noted that air operations fighting the fire have only used water to date, not fire retardant.

Incident commanders are not planning major back-burns today, which create defense lines but also add smoke.

While firefighters are making progress, Simmons said there is no timeframe for when evacuees will be able to return home. “It will depend on how long it takes to get the fire under control. We can’t remove hazard trees that are still on fire.”

Man arrested for theft in fire zone, public urged to avoid area

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese updates press at Thursday morning media briefing

A 23-year-old Troutdale man was arrested Wednesday night on suspicion of acquiring firefighting equipment in the Eagle Creek fire area with the apparent intent to steal items in the evacuated area, said Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese at a Thursday morning briefing in Troutdale.

Cody Cunningham was arrested on suspicion of theft by deception after, officials said, he obtained firefighter clothing from fire officials in the Eagle Creek fire by saying he was a firefighter. He was arrested by sheriff’s deputies who determined he had misrepresented who he was.

“We have a robust law enforcement presence in the evacuated area to protect homes and private property,” Sheriff Reese said. Patrols include staff from the Sheriff’s Office, as well as Oregon State Police and the Portland Police Bureau.

Evacuation levels and areas have not changed, Reese said. He encouraged the public to avoid Level 2 (on alert) and Level 3 (evacuated) areas.

“We continue to contact people who do not have a reason to be in the area,” Reese said. A few residents have been allowed into evacuated areas to get animals and livestock or check on their property.

Coast Guard restricts Columbia River traffic during Gorge fire

The U.S. Coast Guard has restricted navigation in the Columbia River between Troutdale and the Bonneville Dam to reduce conflicts with aircraft drawing river water to fight the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge.

Coast Guard Lt. Commander Laura Springer said that commercial river traffic is being allowed to transit the zone on a case by case basis to promote safety on the river and allow for safe fire fighting. “We are working with the fire’s incident commanders to right-size the restriction zone,” she said.

Springer said that all commercial river users who have asked to transit the Gorge have been allowed to do so.  The relatively small number of commercial vessels has been easily accommodated, she said. The Coast Guard is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make sure that vessels can safely pass the Bonneville Dam, near the fire zone.

The navigation restriction was made on September 4. It is rare for the Coast Guard to restrict travel on the Columbia River due to a fire.

Heroic effort rescues 400 animals from fire zone

More than 400 animals, mostly livestock, were safely evacuated from the Eagle Creek fire in east Multnomah County, according to the county’s Animal Services director Jackie Rose.

“It was a heroic effort,” Rose said, mostly by volunteers who brought horse trailers and trucks to rescue animals from the fire on Monday night.

A multi-agency coordination group that was formed years ago coordinated the animal rescue.  It includes public and private animal welfare groups.  

Evacuated animals include cows, horses, llamas, goats and chickens, as well as companion pets like dogs and cats.  Most of the livestock is being boarded at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds and at a facility for horses.  The Multnomah County animal shelter is housing 25 animals, including several goats.

“The most amazing thing has been the amount of volunteer activity,” Rose said. “Hundreds of people have contacted animal rescue groups with offers to help.”

She said that donations of goods are not needed at this time, but financial donations to animal welfare groups are preferred. People who want to donate items can contact groups like Multnomah County Animal Services to be added to a list. Contacts for donations are 211info and Multnomah County Animal Services.

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association has issued an advisory for animal owners during the current poor air quality conditions. The advice is similar to health advice for humans:  stay indoors, limit exercise, and see a doctor if an animal has breathing or vision difficulties.

Rose added that wildlife biologists from the U.S. Forest Service in the fire zone are assessing impacts to wildlife and will be making plans to support wildlife in the fire zone.