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News / Northwest

Wildfires threaten homes, pollute air in Pacific Northwest

By Associated Press
Published: September 2, 2017, 4:08pm
2 Photos
In this Aug. 27, 2017, file photo, smoke from a wildfire west of Sisters, Ore., blankets the Deschutes National Forest. Central and southern Oregon like much of the Northwest, has been plagued by hazardous smoke from wildfires.
In this Aug. 27, 2017, file photo, smoke from a wildfire west of Sisters, Ore., blankets the Deschutes National Forest. Central and southern Oregon like much of the Northwest, has been plagued by hazardous smoke from wildfires. (Associated Press) Photo Gallery

A wildfire on the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge trapped dozens of holiday weekend hikers Saturday.

The fire started about a mile up the trail, Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz said. The popular trail starts just west of Cascade Locks, Ore.

About 50 acres had burned by 7 p.m., she said, trapping about 140 hikers on the trail above the fire.

“It’s a busy trail, and this is a busy weekend,” she said.

Hood River County Fire Defense Chief Jim Trammell told KGW-TV that the hikers were trapped between the fire and the Indian Creek Fire, which has been burning in the Mount Hood National Forest since July 4. They can’t go up or down the trail to escape, he said.

The U.S. Forest Service told KGW on Saturday evening that hikers were being led up the trail and around the fire about 14 miles to an exit that avoids both fires.

While firefighters and search-and-rescue volunteers worked to evacuate the hikers, three helicopters and two planes dropped water on the fire, Pawlitz said.

Several people in Clark County called 911 reporting the large plume of smoke, visible for miles.

News of the Eagle Creek fire came shortly before Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed a state of emergency in all Washington counties due to growing wildfire concerns. His proclamation allows the use of Washington National Guard resources and directs state agencies to do everything they can to help areas impacted by fires.

Wildfires threatened thousands of homes and hindered travel Saturday in the Pacific Northwest.

The region has not seen rain since early June, and high temperatures have primed it for big fires, Washington Deputy State Fire Marshal John Wabel said.

There are more than 20 fires burning in Oregon and a handful around Washington, and they’re taking a toll on wildland firefighters.

“Current weather forecasts predict continuing elevated temperatures throughout the state for the next seven days, providing hot and dry conditions, that, combined with the existing high-risk fire fuel conditions, support an active burning environment capable of producing significant multiple wildfires requiring the need for additional immediate response throughout the state,” Inslee wrote in the proclamation.

One blaze has burned 23 square miles about 80 miles southeast of Seattle near the town of Cle Elum and forced authorities to issue new evacuation notices. About 3,800 homes were at risk, authorities said Saturday.

Police went door to door with evacuation notices in communities near Cle Elum, where temperatures Saturday were in the 90s, and the humidity was only 12 percent, Wabel said.

“That’s desert-level humidity,” he said. “It doesn’t take much to start a fire.”

The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office told people in the area that they should leave and warned others in Ronald, Roslyn and surrounding areas that they should be prepared to go because of the approaching fire.

A Red Cross shelter for those evacuating was set up at the Putnam Centennial Center in Cle Elum.

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Elsewhere, crews contained a fast-moving brushfire in the foothills of Boise, Idaho, and some people affected by a blaze on the southern Oregon coast near Brookings were allowed to return home.

Dozens of wildfires across Oregon have forced the evacuation of more than 4,500 people.

Columbian staff writer Patty Hastings contributed to this story

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