A third home has been lost to the Blackburn fire, joining the two homes and five outbuildings that burned earlier in the week. The isolated home was located in the Obrist area, on the west edge of the fire, according to fire officials.
Wednesday afternoon, residents along Wells Road were advised that the evacuation level there had been raised from Level 1 to Level 2, the second stage in a "ready, set, go" evacuation alert system. Also Wednesday afternoon, fire lines were jumped on the west side of the fire forcing firefighters back to contingency areas. Crews were hitting the fire hard Wednesday in anticipation of a change in the weather Thursday, with winds and thunder storms predicted.
Fire spokesperson Chris Friend confirmed Wednesday morning that the building was being used as a residence. The structure is located in the Mill Creek Drainage area.
The Government Flats Fire Complex is still growing at a rate of roughly 2,000 acres per day.
The lightning-caused complex of three fires has grown to 8,731 acres. The Wells fire and Government Flats fire have been lined and hotspots are being extinguished, but the Blackburn fire, was burning at 8,446 acres this morning. The entire complex is considered 15 percent contained.
Firefighters are burning out vegetation from the drainages affected in order to create a more defensible line.
Friend said Mill Creek Road and Reservoir Road are still under a Level III evacuation order, but Obrist Road has been brought down to a Level II.
“On Obrist public access is still restricted but residents can go back in there,” Friend said.
Chloris Mullins, who lives on Mill Creek Road, said her family was told Saturday night to get ready to evacuate. They pulled together a pile of their most important possessions so that they could load it into the vehicles as soon as they were told to evacuate.
“It was pretty intense Sunday night and Monday,” she said. “We had trucks and a lot of smoke and helicopters dumping water and planes flying over. It sounded kind of like World War III overhead.”
When the Level III evacuation order was issued Monday night she took the kids to the house of a friend while her husband Mark stayed to keep the sprinklers running and clear away as much brush as possible.
Mullins said most of the men in the neighborhood stayed despite the evacuation order and she was touched by how well the neighborhood was pulling together and helping each other out. She said she and her husband were also impressed by the hard work and dedication of the fire crews.
“Mark was really touched by the person in charge of the crew when they lost the house farther up the road,” she said. “He just broke into tears when he told us about it, because he felt like a failure.”
According to news releases, 73 homes and 80 other structures are still threatened.
Spokesperson Mary Sherrub told The Chronicle Tuesday night that fire crews were helped by lighter, less erratic winds Tuesday, which were “a real positive for us.”
She said the winds are still a concern, however. Right now the fire is creeping downhill at the junction of Reservoir Road and Upper Mill Creek Road, but there are concerns that if the winds pick up the fire could start running uphill.
“Fire likes to burn uphill,” she said. “Right now it’s creeping into the drainages in that corner area and that’s good, because if we can get it to creep and burn out efficiently, that means that part of the fire is more likely not to give us any trouble.”
Level I evacuation is in effect on about 10 homes at the end of Cherry Heights in the Wells area. Level I is precautionary, urging people to get ready to leave.
Fire officials worry that if the currently creeping fire in the Reservoir-upper Mill Creek junction were to take off again under shifting winds, that handful of Cherry Heights homes could be at risk.
The number of tents and rigs out at Wahtonka continued to increase Tuesday night and Wednesday morning as the number of firefighters and support personnel on scene increased to 823.
The fire complex is being managed under a unified command of Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Management Team 3 (Incident Commander, Chris Cline) and Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Green Team (Incident Commander, John Ingrao).