Fire jumps Deschutes again Thursday morning

A line of fire burns in Sherman County Wednesday night. Photo courtesy Jeremy Lanthorn

The 50,000-acre Substation fire jumped the Deschutes River where it empties into the Columbia River Thursday morning, and a level 3 evacuation was called for Biggs Junction, said Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill.

Evacuation orders were issued Wednesday for parts of Sherman County, including Moro, the county seat, but by Thursday morning no structures were lost “that we’re aware of,” said Lt. Damon Simmons, public information officer for Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Level 3 evacuations were also given this morning for Grass Valley and Hwy 30 from Deschutes State Park to Biggs.

Conditions are expected to greatly increase smoke, according to the official Facebook page for the fire “Substation Fire 2018 Fire Information.”

There are now 201 firefighters on the fire from 68 agencies across the state, said Paula Fasano Negele, a public information officer with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

She said the Oregon Department of Transportation has said Hwy 97 is open, although shows it closed still.

Also, she said Thursday morning, Hwy 30 is closed from Celilo to Biggs and Hwy 206 is closed from the Columbia River to Wasco.

The fire started Tuesday afternoon south of the BPA’s Celilo Substation.

Winds Wednesday night reached 35 mph gusts, Simmons said, and the expectation Thursday was for similar weather, perhaps more severe. Thursday night, expectations are that humidity will decrease as heat increases.

Magill said this morning at the mouth of the Deschutes, “It’s ripping up here right now.”

“I’ve never seen a fire like this,” Magill said. He said it was blowing maybe 15-20 mph at the river, but was probably 45-50 mph at the higher elevations.

“The day it started it burned 18 miles in eight hours,” he said of the fire.

Simmons said Thursday morning that fire crews would work on structure protection and getting ahead of the fire. They will drop retardant in front of the fire to slow its advance, cool it with water drops from helicopter and hand crews will remove fuel ahead of the fire.

They also have bulldozers available today to cut firelines “and get ahead of this hopefully.”

Simmons said that the fire size is just over 50,000 acres and it is expected to increase slightly today.

He did not anticipate extreme changes in evacuation levels.

The fire pushed slightly toward Interstate 84, but it’s still a ways away. The fire is moving mostly toward the southeast, he said. It had not jumped Hwy 97 that he was aware of.

Damage assessment is ongoing, but fighting the fire is a priority, Simmons said.

He said the bigger priority today with more resources was to stop the fire and get in front if ot and keep it away from structures and minimize the impact to farmers.

In light of the death of John Ruby, who died during the fire when he was apparently attempting to disc a fireline with a tractor, Simmons said, “We just want people to be safe around this fire. If we ask you to evacuate, please evacuate. No firefight is worth your life. I don’t want to take away anything from what that person did. They were trying to stop this fire and they were trying to do something admirable, but like I said, it’s not worth the loss.”

Simmons said the Red Cross shelter set up at The Dalles Middle School in The Dalles saw 15 people Wednesday, and two stayed overnight Wednesday night.

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