Wildfires near The Dalles threatening homes

By

Published:

Updated: August 19, 2013, 2:15 PM

 

THE DALLES — Dozens of homeowners across a mix of ranchland, orchard and timberland in the Columbia River Gorge were on alert Monday as crews battled wildfires that were burning on 3,000 acres outside this river city, a favorite hangout for windsurfers.

Two structures burned Sunday afternoon, one of which may have been occupied, said fire spokesman Dave Morman.

Residents of about 35 of the 70 homes threatened in an area 10 miles southwest of The Dalles were told to pack up and be ready to evacuate, Morman said. The Government Flats Complex of fires was 12 percent contained, with full containment projected for Sept. 1.

One resident, Whitey Hilmoe, said he wasn’t worried and was staying put.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “My property is so clean — I have no brush or grass that could burn.”

The Government Flats Complex was burning in hilly country between the Columbia River and Mount Hood.

Gov. John Kitzhaber declared the wildfires a conflagration so the state fire marshal could mobilize resources to assist locals in battling the blaze.

The fire burned within a mile of the water treatment plant serving about 12,000 people in The Dalles, said Tom Fields, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Structural fire crews were dispatched from Clackamas, Washington, Hood River, Marion and Multnomah counties to protect homes and the treatment plant, bringing the number of firefighters and support personnel to 500.

Firefighters were warned to be ready for afternoon winds gusting to 25 mph. The Columbia River Gorge is known for its winds, which draw windsurfers and kiteboarders to the area. With its steep cliffs, the Gorge acts like a wind tunnel.

Two of the fires in the complex were contained, and crews focused on the third, known as the Blackburn fire.

Elsewhere, lighting fires started last month in southwestern Oregon continued to burn, but firefighters hoped to have some of them contained in coming weeks.

The biggest of them, the Douglas Complex, has burned across 75 square miles of mostly federal timberland seven miles north of Glendale. Low-level evacuation warnings remained in effect for the city of Glendale and outlying rural areas.

In the Rogue River Canyon, along the popular whitewater rafting section of the river, the Big Windy Complex was20 percent contained at 29 square miles. It was projected to be fully contained by Sept. 1. Bear Camp Road, the primary shuttle route for rafters, remained closed.

The Whisky Complex six miles east of Tiller was 65 percent contained after burning across 26 square miles. Full containment was projected for Tuesday.

The Labrador fire continued to creep through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness along the Illinois River 13 miles northwest of Cave Junction. The fire has burned through three square miles, and a low-level evacuation warning remained in effect for cabins in the Oak Flat area, most of them on the other side of the Illinois River, but no containment date has been projected. About 80 firefighters were assigned to the fire, including three helicopters dousing spot fires.

Smaller fires continued to burn across remote areas of Eastern Oregon outside Joseph, Burns, John Day and Prairie City. Most were started by lightning.