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Evacuation notices to be lifted

Sheriff said cool, rainy weather is reducing threat

By Neita Cecil

The Dalles Chronicle

All evacuations for the Government Flats Complex fire are expected to be lifted by Monday night, Wasco County Sheriff Rick Eiesland said.

Evacuation orders are in place along Ketchum Road, Upper Mill Creek past the 9500 block, and Vinsel Road, Eiesland said.

He will meet with fire officials at 4 p.m. today (Monday) for final word on evacuations.

“If it continues to stay overcast and rain, then they should be good to lift the restrictions and have people return to their homes,” Eiesland said.

The fire was listed at 45 percent contained Monday morning, and fire crews are starting to demobilize. As of Sunday evening, 1,055 personnel were on the fire, which has burned 12,070 acres in three fires, the largest of which is the Blackburn fire, which has burned 11,775 acres.

Crews are taking advantage of the past couple of days of cool and wet weather, putting control lines against the burned areas, mopping up, which means making sure the area is cold out, and removing hazard snags, according to a press release.

On Saturday, Aug. 24, the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Green Team was demobilized from the complex. Their efforts helped support the local Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue in defending homes and property, with 142 personnel from 46 fire districts and departments representing 12 Oregon counties on the Government Flats Complex.

The Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Management Team 3 remains on the complex until it is fully controlled and ready to turn back over to Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue for final mop-up and patrol.

Soggy fire crews were relocated to the Wahtonka High School gym after their “rain-flies” and plastic coverings proved unable to handle the weekend rains. “The gym floor may be harder, but it is dray and warm,” a press release stated. The American Red Cross also made blankets available for use, if needed.

Once the evacuations are lifted, people who are signed up for a notification service through the dispatch center will get a phone call to their home, Eiesland said. Other means of notification are through the media, and also simply by removing the roadblocks themselves. Once that happens, word then tends to travel pretty fast that the evacuation is lifted, Eiesland said.

Mindy Sherrieb, information officer for the fire, said there’s no expected containment date for the fire. She did say that the brief lightning storm Sunday night did not spark any new fires in the complex, which is burning 10 miles south of The Dalles.

The evacuation level on Ketchum road is a Level II, which is the second most serious of three, and the other two roads are on a Level I evacuation, which is the least serious.

The three evacuation levels are likened to “ready, set, go.”

“Roads within the fire area remain closed to non-residential traffic throughout the day. It is anticipated that all evacuation levels will be lifted this evening. Residents are encouraged to be very cautious when driving due to the high level of suppression vehicles and heavy equipment using the roads in the area,” the press release stated.

The release also noted that “recreationists (including bow hunters and bicyclists) are reminded that the Mt. Hood National Forest has implemented an area closure in proximity to the Blackburn Fire. Listings of the road, trail, campground, and general area closures may be found at the Forest web site: Mt Hood National Forest (http://www.fs.usda.gov/mthood) and at http://inciweb.org/incident/maps/3662/”

The fire was started by lighting strikes on Friday, Aug. 16. Four structures – including at least two permanent homes and perhaps two cabins – were burned, as were nine outbuildings.

So far, fighting the fire has cost $10.2 million. Personnel involved include 35 crews, 36 engines, 12 dozers, 15 water tenders, and eight helicopters.

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