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‘It’s a dry tinderbox out there’

Chief Wells says fire season vigilance helps prevention

Two fires in just over two weeks on the Indian Creek Trail are apparently unconnected.

Firefighters and Hood River Police responded Sunday to a 12:15 p.m. fire on the trail just below 7th Street. It charred a 100-foot square section of brush on a near-vertical slope on the south side of the trail. No one was injured and no structures were involved.

“The heat of the fire was out pretty quick. We got a quick knockdown with the first engine,” Fire Chief Devon Wells said. Police assisted along with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Scenic Area personnel. “We got a hand line around 40 percent, water and foam to knock it down from there.”

Meanwhile, Wells is urging caution as fire season is “really just getting started” and said anyone who sees what they think might be a fire should report it immediately.

“It’s really a dry tinderbox out there, and having people think about wildfire safety is of the utmost importance right now,” Wells said.

On July 31, a similar fire broke out on the trail about 200 yards to the west, near the Union Street power facility. It damaged a power pole and a pine tree, but neighbors and fire agencies contained it to a 70-foot stretch next to the trail.

“It concerns me, because we haven’t had fires on the trail for years,” Wells said. “But at this time it appears there’s nothing that draws them together. But it sparks an interest in my mind, to watch this.”

He said there was no evident cause of ignition such as matches or fireworks at either location, and in Sunday’s fire no power source was nearby. In the July 31 fire, Pacific Power workers checked the pole, which is intact and does not need replacing, according to Wells. He said the power employees found no wire damage or other indication the fire was electrically caused.

On Monday firefighters responded to a small fire about four blocks away, at Eighth and June streets. It was initially reported as a house fire involving a garage, but the damage was limited to a fence. No one was home and there were no apparent ignition sources, according to Wells.

He said the ground was covered in bark dust that, while not fresh, could have harbored enough moisture that, combined with the heat and humidity, self-combusted. This can be an issue with bark dust as well as compost piles, he said.

“Sometimes the heat sits inside (the bark dust) and never comes out and sometimes they pop up,” he said. This is what happened with a layer of bark dust in front of Rite Aid two weeks ago, he said.

“It’s hotter this summer than normal, there’s a lot of vegetation, and it’s one of those years that’s been prime for fires, and we’re just barely into the fire season, which runs through September,’ Wells said.

Of the Indian Creek fire on Sunday, Wells said access was difficult and firefighters ended up on the downhill side of the fire, a potentially dangerous situation.

“The biggest thing we worry about is loose materials like rocks and stumps that get knocked loose and start fires below the firefighters,” he said. The new flames can spread and quickly run uphill, overtaking firefighters.

“It’s a situation where officers and firefighters have to have their principles in place and be watching,” he said.

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Wells said in the past week his agency has responded to a variety of calls in which residents thought they had seen smoke or fire.

“I’m glad people are calling,” Wells said. “You can say, ‘someone else will call’ or ‘it’s an ag burn,’ but every minute that passes by that fire gets exponentially larger. It is good that people are paying attention.”

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