Crews scramble to emergencies during weekend heat wave


News staff writer

July 26, 2006

Emergency responders throughout Hood River County spent a weekend of soaring hot temperatures on the run to keep up with accidents, fires and rescues.

The major incidents between Friday and Monday included a blaze in a trailer of hay that closed Interstate 84 for more than two hours, two trail rescues in Cascade Locks, and a traumatic motorcycle crash south of Parkdale.

In addition, an injured hiker was transported for medical attention from a Pine Grove location, and Cascade Locks dealt with three grass fires along the freeway.

Many of these events occurred at the same time, sending crews scrambling to provide coverage.

“Our emergency services were tested this weekend – and all passed with flying colors,” said Hood River Asst. Fire Chief Devon Wells. “The citizens and visitors of Hood River County should be well pleased with their agencies, which responded professionally and with diligence to handle these emergencies.”

On Sunday alone, Hood River, Pine Grove and West Side firefighters and medics handled 10 calls for help.

One of these occurred shortly after noon when a young adult male wrecked his motorcycle along Highway 35. The victim sustained lower back and abdominal injuries — along with a broken arm — from the crash near Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort.

Parkdale Fire Chief Mike McCafferty and his volunteers arrived at the scene to stabilize the victim. They prepared a landing zone at White River Snow Park to accommodate a LifeFlight transport of the man to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.

Then at 1:30 p.m. a female hiker was reported to have possibly fractured her ankle and injured her back near Powerdale Dam.

The woman had been walking along the water supply pipeline, next to the Mt. Hood Railroad tracks, when she slipped and fell onto the rocks below. Medics from the Pine Grove and Hood River fire departments carried the victim via stretcher to a waiting ambulance. She was then taken to Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital for treatment.

However, the biggest challenge came during the heat of the day. About 4:15 p.m., a trailer hauling 5.5 tons of hay ignited along the freeway. The driver of the pickup pulling the load noticed the smoke just as he passed Exit 63 in the westbound lane.

“He had no ability to pull over until after the guard rail ended at about mile post 62.5,” said Wells.

By the time the driver managed to stop, all of the straps holding the hay to the trailer had burned through and its contents were ablaze.

The fire quickly spread to the dry grass along I-84 next to Westcliff Drive. About that time, emergency crews arrived at the scene. They were worried about winds that were blowing 10-15 miles per hour with the heat above 100 degrees and the humidity at about 15 percent. Wells said those weather conditions set the stage for a very hazardous situation.

“We were very concerned about the fire spreading to the brush areas of Westcliff,” said Wells. “That would have been disastrous, potentially threatening 10-15 homes along that road and Windswept Drive.”

He said a homeowner helped out by applying water to the advancing flames with a garden hose — which averted a major problem.

However, traffic quickly backed up along the freeway, causing a fender bender and the engines in at least four idling vehicles to overheat.

Wells said it took more than two hours to get the situation under control since all of the hay had to be removed from the trailer before the fire could be extinguished. He said that proved to be a very hot job for the men who were wearing protective turnouts.

The first call of the weekend for Cascade Locks came about 8 p.m. on Friday. Firefighters assisted Corbett emergency responders in battling a wildfire just west of Horsetail Falls.

The temperature at the scene along a steep slope above the Historic Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway stood near 100 degrees with only 18 percent humidity.

Cascade Locks Fire Chief Jeff Pricher said 4,000 gallons of water were pumped from four engines and 10-12 firefighters fought to contain the blaze that covered about one-fourth of an acre. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

“We had to contend with steep and rugged terrain that made for a cautious fire attack,” said Pricher.

He and his volunteers were also dispatched on Saturday to perform two rescues at the same time. The first incident occurred about 3:15 p.m. and involved a female hiker who had fallen and injured a leg near Oneonta Gorge. Meanwhile, another Portland woman had hurt herself after making the 80 foot jump from Punch Bowl Falls.

One of the victims refused an ambulance transport after being carried on a stretcher to safety. The other was driven to a metro medical center by family members.

Cascade Locks was joined by numerous other agencies in the rescues — help that was needed when another medical emergency call came in.

Firefighters from the small community also extinguished two other small brush fires, one during the weekend and the other on Monday night. In addition, a car stolen from Troutdale was set on fire and the driver fled first thing Monday morning.

“We’ve all just been very busy,” said Pricher.

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