By ELENA LESLEY
The Dalles Chronicle
Strong westerly winds blew the Sheldon Ridge Fire eastward Thursday afternoon, closer to The Dalles and increasing in size from an initial 200 acres to 5,180 acres overnight, said Mike Ferris, a fire information officer from the USDA Forest Service.
A thick, towering plume of brown smoke hovered over the skies south of The Dalles Thursday night, and fire officials advised evacuation of several hundred homes along Brown’s Creek Road, Wells Road, upper Cherry Heights and Mill Creek Road between the 4500 and 6500 blocks.
Governor John Kitzhaber has declared Sheldon Ridge the highest priority of any current blaze in the state due to its fast-moving nature and close proximity to structures, Ferris said.
“The combination of low humidity, strong winds and dry terrain is a recipe for fire spread,” Ferris said, noting that none of the blaze has been contained.
“Everyone’s concerned about the predicted winds for today,” he said.
Ferris said the 346 firefighters currently on the scene will focus on protecting the approximately 200 residences and 420 outbuildings threatened by the fire and preventing the blaze from crossing Mill Creek Road. As of Friday morning officials had assigned 111 fire engines, six bulldozers and four helicopters to crews fighting the fire. Although no residences have burned, several outbuildings were destroyed by the blaze, said Beth Kirschhofer, a public information officer from the USDA Forest Service.
More equipment is en route. The fire was ignited by lightning Tuesday and burned rapidly over Government Flat Thursday afternoon and evening.
It blazed through open, grassy slopes and scrub oak toward Upper Cherry Heights and Brown’s Creek Road, before crossing Brown’s Creek Road and continuing over the hill into the Mill Creek drainage.
Additional firefighting resources from around the state were to arrive Friday, even though fires are burning throughout Oregon, said Dave Wells, a public information officer from the State Forestry Department.
“These firefighters are doing a big thing by keeping this fire out of The Dalles,” he said. “I think it’s as big nationally as the Colorado fire approaching Denver.”