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Wildfire still ‘intense’, risk to firefighters

A long line of fire creeps to the west edge of The Dalles approximately 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Panorama created from two exposures.

A long line of fire creeps to the west edge of The Dalles approximately 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Panorama created from two exposures. Photo by Mark Gibson.

Fire officials this morning can’t yet say whether any structures burned in the rapid run of the Rowena Fire as it raced some six miles yesterday, nearing the western edge of The Dalles and burning 2,654 acres so far.

Six structure fire task forces from the Portland metro area worked throughout the night to protect some 300 homes along Highway 30 and on Sevenmile Hill, a press release stated.

Mandatory evacuations remain in effect for those homes, and the fire is listed as having zero containment thus far.

The fire really took off at about 4 p.m. yesterday, and by evening, a flaming front was clearly visible as it came over the hillside west of The Dalles. “Significant work was completed overnight,” the press release stated, “and dozer-constructed containment line now confines the fire’s eastern edge in a rough line connecting Foley Lakes to Sevenmile Hill Road.”

Incident Commander John Buckman said, “The integration between [Oregon State Fire Marshal] and [Oregon Department of Forestry] provided the needed resources to address both the wildland and structural protection components of the incident.”

Initially, three structure protection task forces from Washington, Yamhill and Columbia counties arrived mid-morning yesterday to protect evacuated homes along Fire officials this morning can’t yet say whether any structures burned in the rapid run of the Rowena Fire as it raced some six miles yesterday, nearing the western edge of The Dalles and burning 2,654 acres so far.

Six structure fire task forces from the Portland metro area worked throughout the night to protect some 300 homes along Highway 30 and on Sevenmile Hill, a press release stated.

Mandatory evacuations remain in effect for those homes, and the fire is listed as having zero containment thus far.

The fire really took off at about 4 p.m. yesterday, and by evening, a flaming front was clearly visible as it came over the hillside west of The Dalles. “Significant work was completed overnight,” the press release stated, “and dozer-constructed containment line now confines the fire’s eastern edge in a rough line connecting Foley Lakes to Sevenmile Hill Road.”

Incident Commander John Buckman said, “The integration between [Oregon State Fire Marshal] and [Oregon Department of Forestry] provided the needed resources to address both the wildland and structural protection components of the incident.”

Initially, three structure protection task forces from Washington, Yamhill and Columbia counties arrived mid-morning yesterday to protect evacuated homes along Highway 30. It was quickly realized more help was needed, and three more task forces were brought in from Multnomah, Clackamas and Marion counties to relieve the first three task forces and continue through the night.

But, “during the blow-up yesterday evening, all task forces were immediately deployed to the Sevenmile area to help protect homes in conjunction with the evacuations that were taking place by the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office,” the release stated.

In all, 431 personnel are fighting the fire, with an estimated cost so far of $937,000. Three helicopters, three dozers and 44 vehicles are being used to fight the fire.

Highway 30 remains closed between The Dalles Country Club and Rowena.

Crews headed back out to the fire line this morning and will continue to evaluate and prioritize the most threatened homes while maintaining awareness of forecasted hot and windy conditions, similar to yesterday.

Ranchers with brush equipment, including those from the Columbia Fire District east of The Dalles, were also on guard and helped keep the fire from spreading on Kortge and Ellett properties, said rancher Liz Turner, who has cattle that would have been threatened had the fire spread further.

“If it would have kept coming over the hill on Sevenmile, it would have trapped the people in between and it would have been bad,” Turner said.

Farmers and ranchers are regular responders to wildfires in the area and many have equipment designed for fire response, Turner said.

The fire stayed fairly quiet most of the day Wednesday, until about 4 p.m., when it started to take off, said Dave Wells, incident command spokesperson.

The wind pushed the embers from grass head to grass head, he said.

“It’s just so dry out here, the wind acts like a bellows in a forge. Everything catches quickly, just like a match head,” Wells said.

Winds around the mountain caused the fire to swirl around and even push back in a westerly direction.

“They drove the dozers down there to the water along the edge to keep it from spreading,” Wells said.

While the leading edge of the fire looked calmer this morning, Wells said that image is deceptive.

“I know it doesn’t look like much now, but it’s big and incredibly intense,” he said.

Today, fire control work will focus on reinforcing containment lines on the eastern edge of the fire, securing the northwest end of the fire and continuing structural protection along Highway 30 and other residences.

Evacuation levels were decreased to Level 1 (get ready) this morning in Murray’s Addition, Foley Lakes, Division Street, Sevenmile Road, and Chenowith Loop West. Level 3 (go) evacuations remained in place between teh 4500 and 6400 blocks of Highway 30, including Simonelli Road, Tooley Terrace and Adeline Way.

A public information meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight, August 7, at The Dalles High School, located at 220 E. 10th St. in The Dalles. This meeting is open to all members of the public and media. Fire managers will provide a current status update and be available to address questions and concerns.

The fire is being managed under a unified command between the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office and Oregon Department of Forestry. This unified command is working for ODF Central Oregon District, Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue.

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