Cooler conditions aid efforts to contain Gorge wildfires

Little change reported in size of Archer Mountain, Eagle Creek fires this morning

By Mark Bowder, Columbian Metro Team Editor

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The Archer Mountain Fire in Skamania County remained at 209 acres Saturday morning as weather conditions continued to favor firefighting efforts against it and the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon. Crews hoped to make more headway Saturday before drier, windier, warmer weather returns in a few days.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources announced Saturday that no areas near the fire are under Level 3 (go) evacuation orders.

A Level 2 (be ready) evacuation order remains for those living on Smith-Cripe Road, Franz Road, Archer Road and on private roads connecting to those roadways.

A Level 1 (be alert) evacuation order remains on Mabee Miles Road and its tributaries.

The fire, which is believed to have been started by embers from the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon, is now 15 percent contained. It’s burning in mature timber on rocky, steep terrain with a large amount of forest brush. It is burning on lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service.

“Weather conditions on the Archer Mountain Fire remain favorable and crews will be able to perform fireline cleanup to reduce the fuels and secure the line even further,” the DNR said in a statement released Saturday.

Three crews are working with bulldozers to build firelines and eliminate fuels to the west and east of the blaze to keep the fire within its current footprint. Their goal is to keep the fire east of Archer Creek, south of the BPA corridor, west of Duncan Creek and north of a pipeline that runs through the forest.

There are 105 personnel assigned to the fire, including crews from Larch Corrections Center in Clark County.

Highway 14 remains closed to commercial trucks between mileposts 19 and 82. Interstate 84 remains closed on the Oregon side of the river.

Eagle Creek Fire

The Eagle Creek Fire on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge grew to about 33,682 acres after shifting winds pushed fire activity to the east, according to fire managers. Two new Level 1 (be ready) evacuation orders were issued by the Hood River Sheriff’s Department for portions of Hood River County on Friday afternoon.

The fire, allegedly started by a Vancouver teen playing with fireworks on Sept. 2, is about 7 percent contained. It has been made the nation’s top firefighting priority.

Fire crews performed a strategic burnout near Cascade Locks to protect endangered residential and commercial structures and continued to work along Interstate 84 and state Highway 30 using heavy equipment to strengthen firelines and protect structures, avoiding sensitive areas like fish hatcheries.

Helicopters were dipping water out of the Columbia River to assist firefighters working south of the freeway, and helicopters also provided assistance to crews working to contain the Archer Mountain Fire.

Overnight, Oregon State Fire Marshal structure protection crews continued to mop up along I-84 and in Corbett while burnout operations were held on the east end. Due to increased moisture in the air and no substantial wind, the fire perimeter remained mostly unchanged overnight.

Weather conditions were expected to be favorable for firefighting activities Saturday with lower temperatures, higher humidity and lighter winds.

Activities Saturday emphasized protecting structures along Interstate 84 and state Highway 30. Preparations were underway for a strategic burnout to protect the community of Corbett on the fire’s western edge. Moist conditions, however, can hamper burnout efforts.

While Saturday’s weather gave firefighters breathing room, conditions in upcoming days are expected to revert to drier, windier conditions.

Gifford Pinchot Fires

The U.S. Forest Service reported that fire activity is relatively quiet on the East Crater Fire near the Indian Heaven Wilderness due to cloud cover over the fire area. The size of the fire is estimated at 467 acres, with minimal growth. It has been burning since Sept. 3.

Fire crews reported making significant progress Friday on the Bear Creek Fire burning near Carson, though steep terrain and hot material rolling downslope remain a challenge for containment. The fire remained at 36 acres, and fire managers are putting top priority on protecting the Bear Creek watershed, which is a water supply for the community of Carson.

Crews on Friday built a line around the two-acre Siouxon Fire a quarter mile off the Siouxon Trail approximately one mile up from the 5701 Road trailhead. Efforts continued Saturday and benefitted from cloud cover over the fire area. There currently are no trail closures.