Wyeth brush fire doused, fire conditions around county still uneasy

SHOOTING RANGE east of Cascade Locks was scorched by a small brush fire on Monday. U.S. Forest Service crews were on scene Thursday evening, where an investigation was underway. Vehicular access to the property is currently prohibited.

A fire along Herman Creek Road — between Cascade Locks and Hood River — burned about an acre and a half of brush in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area Monday before crews extinguished it.

There were no injuries or significant property damage in the Labor Day evening blaze.

The human caused fire broke out at about 5:30 p.m. near an open gravel pit — and unofficial shooting range — adjacent to the rural road east of Cascade Locks, near Interstate 84.

A burn ban remains in place for all of Hood River County, and the fire danger level is effectively at “high.”

When U.S. Forest Service crews arrived on scene, the fire was about an acre in size and “we had a single tree torching,” explained Loretta Duke, assistant fire management officer for the Forest Service.

While crews battled the fire, it grew to the southeast. Within an hour, the team of firefighters contained the fire, but it took until about 8 p.m. to completely knock it down.

“They’re certain that it’s human caused, but the specifics are under investigation,” said Rachel Pawlitz, Forest Service public affairs officer.

The Forest Service led the fire suppression effort, with teamwork from Cascade Locks Fire, Oregon Department of Forestry, and West Side Fire Department, which provided a brush fire engine and water tender.

It was the second human caused fire of the summer to break out near a gravel shooting range in Hood River County.

The Neal Creek fire, which scorched 15.5 acres of wooded land east of Odell in August, was ruled human caused.

Jim Trammel, West Side Fire Marshal, explained that shooting firearms in a safe manner is legal throughout the county, even though the only officially approved shooting range is a sportsman’s club near the Hood River bridge. Several privately owned quarries around the region are popular for target practicing but aren’t registered as such.

Fire season isn’t over despite recent spouts of rain, Trammel explained. Warm weather is on the way, according to two-week forecasts.

A burn ban remains in place for all of Hood River County, and the fire danger level is effectively at “high.”

Trammel expects the restriction to stay in place until the middle or end of October. At that point, fire departments will consider allowing morning burns, as was the case during springtime. The public has been largely supportive in adhering to the burn regulations, he said.

A burn pile fire on Davis Drive in Odell reared up on Labor Day morning, but it was reportedly extinguished in less than an hour.

“This has been a weird summer,” Trammel said, with no large fires in the county despite a high danger that they’ll ignite. He expects that more prolonged rains will be necessary to improve dry fuel conditions in vegetation around the region.

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