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FIRE ROARS WEST

SHIFTING WINDS spread the Blackburn Fire toward the north and west Aug. 21 and scattered ash as far away as Parkdale.

SHIFTING WINDS spread the Blackburn Fire toward the north and west Aug. 21 and scattered ash as far away as Parkdale. Photo by Mark Gibson.

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Lee Winstein, who lives in the 4000 block of Obrist Road southeast of The Dalles talks to reporters during a media tour Wednesday afternoon. At that time, the fire was very visible a few miles from his isolated home.

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FLAMES SHOOT high into the air, above, on the Blackburn Fire as viewed from the top of Sevenmile Hill early this morning. “I watched the fire for about an hour and it was unreal,” said area resident Scott Hege. “From something like 10 miles away I could see incredibly large flareups the whole time that must have been over a hundred feet and incredibly intense pink light.”

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46 years ago today IN AUGUST 1967 the Schoolmarm Springs Fire swept through many of the same lands where the Blackburn Fire is burning today. The Chronicle reported Aug. 22 that the fire was brought under control. “I saw it as a kid when my folks lived in Dallesport,” said Ed Goodman. “I remember sitting on the rocks and watching the planes. The Chronicle report said the blaze was estimated at as much as 12,000 acres at the time. About 750 men reportedly battled the blaze.

— A change in wind direction and the threat of evening thunderstorms had firefighters worried as the day shift headed out to the Government Flats Fire Complex Thursday morning.

“It’s going to be a tough day,” spokesperson David Morman said.

He said winds from the east resulted in a “big push out west” for the Blackburn fire on Wednesday, increasing the size of the fire complex to 11,335 acres and pushing it into the Mt. Hood National Forest. Spot fires were reported up to one quarter of a mile ahead of the fire front. The three fires are still at only 15 percent containment.

Morman said crews couldn’t hold the fire in the canyon Wednesday and if the winds reverse direction today as expected the fire could make a U-turn.

“We’re really wanting to avoid the fire turning back on itself because there are a lot of resources that way that we don’t want to lose,” he said.

A fourth home burned Wednesday along with two more outbuildings. Nine outbuildings have been lost since the fires began. Home at Last Humane Society is helping facilitate housing for animals large and small displaced by the fire.

Obrist Road, Wells Road, Reservoir Road and Upper Mill Creek Road have all been lowered to a Level II evacuation, the warning in the middle of the three-level “ready, set, go” system of warnings. Residents were able to return to their homes but were warned to be ready to leave again at a moment’s notice.

“It’s very important for the public not to get complacent, because this is still an evacuation order. They still need to keep their bags packed,” Morman said.

For evacuation information contact the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office at 541-506-2580 during business hours.

According to Thursday’s 8 a.m. news release from incident command, “Fire behavior analysts indicate that conditions today will be at critical levels, with potential for extreme fire behavior and rapid rates of spread … Strong winds out of the west are forecasted beginning in the late afternoon with gusts of 20 mph or more. These winds, combined with steep canyon slopes will challenge firefighters attempting to contain the Blackburn Fire.”

As heavy, dark smoke obscured the sun over The Dalles Wednesday afternoon there were reports that smoke had drifted into Hood River County and ash was falling as far away as Parkdale. Fire officials said the smoke and ash drifting mile downwind was “normal and temporary.”

The cost of fighting the fire is reported at $4.6 million so far. About 850 personnel from public and private firefighting crews around the region are working to control the fire.

If residents want to find out if they can help some way they are encouraged to contact the Red Cross instead of showing up at the fire camp at Wahtonka. At Tuesday’s community meeting residents were told that while the heartfelt sentiment was appreciated, firefighters could not accept baked goods brought to the camp.

Due to the fire, the following Forest Service Roads are closed: Forest Road 1722 on the east end, 4430 at the 1720 junction, 160 at the junction with 4440, 1720 at the east end, Forest Road 17-660 and Forest Road 1711-630. Knebal Springs campground is currently inaccessible.

The American Red Cross shut down their evacuation shelter Thursday afternoon. Though evacuatees had visited the shelter, none had made use of the overnight accommodations, which site director Kristen Barnes said was a sign that community members have taken many of the evacuees into their own homes.

Barnes issued a statement of gratitude today for the outpouring of support shown to the volunteers who came to The Dalles to open the shelter.

“Everyone has been so welcoming and helpful,” Barnes said. “We immediately felt at home.

Barnes also thanked the staff at Dry Hollow Elementary School and the many other individuals and organizations who gave generously.

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