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Fire battle gains continue

— All evacuations for the Government Flats Complex fires were lifted Monday night, crew levels are down, and more accurate mapping shows the fire, now at 55 percent containment, is smaller than originally thought.

The last remaining evacuation orders, for Ketchum Road, Upper Mill Creek past the 9500 block, and Vinsel Road, were lifted following a meeting with fire officials Monday at 4 p.m.

Fire personnel are down to 729 this morning. There were 1,055 Monday.

In addition to lifting evacuations, the Mt. Hood National Forest’s area closure is reduced in size.

The fire, originally estimated at 12,070 acres, is now listed at 11,516 acres. The main fire, the Blackburn Fire, is listed at 11,221 acres. That fire was initially listed at burning 11,775 acres.

Mindy Sherrieb, information officer for the fire, said initial size estimates are taken by infrared flights over the fire. The more accurate measures are taken on the ground, using GPS units.

The team’s fire behavior analyst stated that the fine fuels (grass and small branches) are starting to dry out from the recent moisture and are becoming more combustible. Any burning has a low possibility of spreading, but it will make detecting hot areas easier, allowing a more complete mop-up.

The night shift crew is being reduced to patrolling and looking for hot spots. Crews are using hand-held infrared detectors to help locate heat pockets.

As the fire becomes more contained, firefighters are beginning to be released from the fire.

“Safety-wise, you can only have so many people in a certain area [before] it becomes unsafe to work,” Sherrieb said. “When you’re working and you’re swinging a tool, you need to have space to do that. You start getting rid of people because they’re getting too tight where there is the work to do.”

The lifting of evacuation orders was done by reverse 911 to those who had signed up for it. Other means of getting the word out, said Wasco County Sheriff Rick Eiesland, were talking to the media, and simply taking down the barricades blocking the roads.

The Wasco County Sheriff’s Department expressed their sincere appreciation to the public for their patience and cooperation during the evacuations and road closures. They would also like to inform county residents about the Wasco County Citizen Alert System (reverse 911 notifications). This is an efficient method for providing emergency information to those affected. For more information click onto the Wasco County Website: www.co.wasco.or.us

On Monday, 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 dry and warm,” a press release stated. The American Red Cross also made blankets available for use, if needed.

Sherrieb said there is still 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.

While the closure area in the national forest has shrunk, forest roads into the fire are still closed due to heavy fire traffic. Listings of the road, trail and campground 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 $11 million. Personnel involved include 26 crews, 31 engines, 11 dozers, 12 water tenders, and 12 helicopters.

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