Firefighters continue to make progress on three large wildfires in the Columbia River Gorge — South Valley, Long Hollow and Milepost 90 — and all three are over 50 percent contained.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area has issued restrictions prohibiting open campfires on National Forest System lands in the Gorge. The orders also restrict smoking, engine use, welding and motor vehicle use. Here’s a synopsis of what you need to know before heading out this weekend:
Campfires are banned: Wood and charcoal fires are prohibited, even in developed campgrounds and picnic areas that have established metal fire pits or rings. Building and tending open fires, including charcoal briquettes, cooking fires and warming fires are prohibited until further notice. Portable cooking stoves and lanterns using liquefied or bottled fuel are permissible.
No smoking: Smoking outside of vehicles, buildings and developed recreation sites is also prohibited. The exception is areas that are barren and clear of all flammable material for a three-foot diameter.
Engine restrictions: Operating an internal combustion engine is prohibited; this specifically applies to generators and chainsaws, except in areas devoid of vegetation.
Welding and torches: Welding or operating acetylene or other torch with open flame is prohibited.
Motorized vehicles: Possessing or using motor vehicles including motorcycles, ATVs and OHVs is prohibited on National Forest systems trails and any other Forest System land outside of roads.
Campfires restrictions will remain in effect until there is significant moisture to lower the fire danger. Violators can be fined up to $5,000 and/or imprisoned up to six months in jail.
The prohibitions and restrictions on the use of flammable substances and items that when heated can cause fire should apply in any outdoor environment, on all public as well as private lands.
For more information about current fire closures and restrictions, visit the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Fire Management webpage at www.fs.usda.gov/m....
As of Tuesday morning, the South Valley fire was had burned 20,026 acres southwest of Dufur and was 65 percent contained. Crews estimate the fire will be completely contained by the end of the day Thursday.
“The South Valley fire is in full mop up and containment grows every day, but work continues on hot spots and around the perimeter,” the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook.
All evacuation areas were downgraded to Level 1 (Get Ready) Sunday evening, but the sheriff’s department encourages residents to remain aware of potential changing conditions; 212 homes remain threatened and 616 people remain under Level 1 evacuation, officials stated.
For details and updates on evacuation orders, visit Wasco County Sheriff’s Facebook page. Should evacuation levels change, the Red Cross is available to help provide shelter for all those displaced: Contact them at 1-888-680-1455.
At least three primary structures and 15 outbuildings have been lost so far, the State Fire Marshal stated.
Firefighters are worried about “dust or ash devils,” a phenomenon when solar heat hits the ground and the unstable atmosphere creates a whirlwind that could pick up embers and carry them over the fire line.
Temperatures and wind-levels are expected to worsen later this week, so crews are working to extinguish as much heat as they can now to prevent the fire from rekindling.
Though still under investigation, investigators believe the fire is human-caused.
Containment work on the South Valley fire was briefly interrupted Sunday when resources were diverted to address a new wildfire just north of Prineville. Though that fire grew quickly, quick responses from three fire managers, one 20-person hand-crew, two five-person hand-crews as well as Type Six engines, water tenders and black hawk helicopters kept it under 30 acres. It was 100 percent lined and in mop-up Sunday night.
As of Tuesday morning, there are 13 large wildfires in Oregon and seven large wildfires in Washington, affecting 205,347 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Two of these 13 Oregon wildfires surround Dufur: The South Valley fire and the neighboring Long Hollow fire.
That fire burned 33,451 acres of brush and grass south of Dufur and was 95 percent contained as of the last official update, issued just after 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31.
Personnel from the Central Oregon Area Interagency Dispatch Center (COIDC) have demobilized and transitioned the scene back to the local fire crew, who will continue to patrol and secure fire lines until the fire is 100 percent contained.
The fire began July 26 around 4:45 p.m. in a field five miles south of Dufur when a combine harvesting wheat caught fire, and quickly spread into the Deschutes River Canyon.
Residents along the Deschutes River between Sherars Falls and Mack’s Cannon were issued a Level 3 (Go!) evacuation notice that same day. Those evacuations were lowered to Level 1 (Get Ready) on July 29 and all evacuation levels along the Deschutes were lifted by July 30.
No injuries have been reported and one structure, the historic Ferry Canyon Homestead, was lost.
On the Washington side of the river, the fire that started near milepost 90 on Washington State Route 14 around 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31 was 85 percent contained as of the last official update, issued around 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 5. The fire burned 14,500 acres of private, the Columbia National Scenic Area and Bureau of Indian Affairs lands on the Washington side of the river, extending as far as Maryhill Museum to the east and Avery Recreation Area to the west.
Because the area had been burned many times in the last few years, officials said, the fuels were mainly fast burning grasses. The fire’s cause is still under investigation.
There have been no injuries and no confirmed structures lost, officials stated in a press release. Highway 14 between Highway 197 and Highway 97 was reopened 3 p.m. on Thursday and a few hours later, all evacuation levels, which affected about 75 residences, were lifted.
Crews patrolled containment lines and extinguished hotspots over the weekend.
Highway 216, Deschutes River access road and all recreation along the Deschutes are open.
On a scale from one to five, the nation remains at a Preparedness Level 5 (PL5): The highest level, indicating a high level of both wildfire activity and commitment of wildfire suppression assets like firefighters and aircrafts.
As of Monday morning, 103 active large fires have been reported across the U.S., affecting 1,580,488 acres.