Saturday, September 26, 2020
Sept. 26, 2020

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North county residents heed pre-evacuation notices as Gifford Pinchot burns

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter, and
, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

After receiving a “Get Ready” evacuation notice, Amboy resident Judie Woodruff stayed awake until 1 a.m. Thursday packing essential belongings — important documents and other irreplaceable possessions — and loading them into a trailer.

She wasn’t the only one preparing for the worst.

Residents in north Clark County remained on alert Thursday, awaiting news on any updates to evacuation notices issued Wednesday night, due to the Big Hollow wildfire burning east near Yale Reservoir in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

As of Thursday morning, the last available update before press time, the fire had not entered Clark County, and there were no mandatory evacuations in place, according to Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.

But people in Yacolt and Amboy described the conditions as “very smoky,” with orange-tinted skies, a blood-red sun and ash falling in some areas.

Woodruff said there’s a dirty film on vehicles, and she can taste the smoke in the air.

Estimates of the size of the fire have varied greatly since Wednesday night, and it continues to grow. However, both the U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources estimated the fire has burned about 12,000 acres.

Video shot Thursday morning by KPTV-TV from a helicopter showed the fire burning on a ridge in the forest. Flames were seen crowning in the tops of trees in the heavily timbered area, and producing a large plume of smoke.

Carrie Bladow, a member of Yacolt Community Church, said she is keeping a watchful eye on fire maps in case the blaze creeps too close to town for comfort.

The church is doing its best to inform members of the evolving situation. People are preparing for the worst, but Bladow said she is making an effort to not instill needless fear.

“We’ve had some of our elderly folks call who are concerned. No one’s home is threatened at this point, but we’re telling everyone to be ready, in addition to just checking up on them, asking if they’re OK,” Bladow said. “There were some rumors going around (Wednesday) night about how close (the fire) was, so I’ve been directing people to the map. That’s the most concrete information.”

Evacuation notices

The Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday issued a Level 1 “Get Ready” evacuation notice for the north Yacolt and Amboy areas and a Level 2 “Get Set” notice for Chelatchie Prairie.

CRESA issued a public alert about the evacuation notices Wednesday night. The agency said there is no immediate threat to those areas. However, fire officials want residents to be aware of the situation in case conditions change. A map of the affected areas can be found at https://bit.ly/35nOnME.

Battle Ground Public Schools has closed Yacolt Primary School and Amboy Middle School and canceled remote learning because of the evacuation notices. There is no meal service at those sites. The Woodland School District closed Yale Elementary School due to the Level 2 evacuation notice in that area and heavy smoke.

A Level 1 evacuation notice means residents should be aware of the potential danger and should “get ready” in the event of a mandatory evacuation.

“Residents with special needs, or those with pets or livestock, should take note and prepare for relocating family members, pets and livestock. Refine your evacuation plans and gather the things you will need if you must evacuate,” CRESA explained in social media posts.

A Level 2 evacuation notice indicates a significant risk in the area.

“Now is the time to be set for immediate evacuation. Residents should either voluntarily relocate to a shelter or designated area or with family/friends outside the area or be ready to leave at a moment’s notice,” according to the agency.

A Level 3 “Go Now” notice means there’s immediate danger and residents need to evacuate.

CRESA has designated Lewisville Intermediate Campus, 406 N.W. Fifth Ave., Battle Ground, as the meeting point for anyone who needs to evacuate.

Helping hands

Woodruff said some north county residents have begun moving animals from their properties. People are stepping up, offering help to move them to safer areas using trailers, she said.

“Everyone is helping each other out, and most everyone is getting important stuff together,” Woodruff said.

Clark County Executive Horse Council’s Adopt-a-Horse program posted a request on Facebook asking people with space in their barns or on their properties to consider housing horses evacuated due to the fire.

The council is working with the county’s dispatchers and animal control officers to coordinate those efforts. It’s also looking for anyone willing to take in livestock, such as goats and sheep. Anyone willing to help should call Lori Harris at 360-798-3515.

Harris said the number of calls over the past couple of days has been overwhelming, but she and others are teaming up to help people move animals here and from Oregon.

Large barns in the county, such as Rockin’ B Ranch in Ridgefield, and organizations, such as Clark County Saddle Club, have offered space and taken in donated hay and feed for the animals. The Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds is also being used, with many of the animals there coming from Oregon.

There were more than 250 displaced animals being sheltered in the county as of Thursday, and Harris said she expects that total to climb.

Robert Lies, a day manager at Yacolt Trading Post, said customers seem a bit panicked about the current situation, because the area has not experienced a fire of this magnitude in recent memory.

He said some older residents are comparing it with the Yacolt Burn, fires that scorched the area starting more than a century ago and the reburns that persisted until 1952.

“I get the feeling that some people are nervous. I’m doing my best to smooth over those feelings,” Lies said.

A number of residents stayed in nearby hotels overnight, he said.

Lies said the store is doing its best to keep people supplied. Several customers have rented storage sheds for their belongings, and many others seem to be grabbing ice. Beyond that, customers are sticking to their ordinary shopping lists, he said.

Forest closures

The Big Hollow Fire was discovered Tuesday burning east and north of the Trapper Creek Wilderness on the Mount Adams Ranger District. Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service had estimated the size of the fire to be 6,000 acres but later updated that number to about 22,000 acres. It reduced that estimate Thursday morning to 12,050 acres, in line with the estimate from the Department of Natural Resources.

The cause of the fire is unknown.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest has temporarily closed some areas to the public, including developed campgrounds, dispersed camping, day use and wilderness areas, and most forest roads and trails in the southwestern portion of the forest, the U.S. Forest Service said in a news release Wednesday night.

“At this time, the Big Hollow Fire is presenting an extremely dangerous situation, and we must close the forest to protect the life and safety of the firefighters and the public,” Forest Supervisor Eric Veach said in the news release. “Even if your destination is outside the closure area, please consider waiting to visit the Gifford Pinchot or other national forests until the fire situation in the Northwest has stabilized somewhat.”

A forestwide ban on all campfires also went into effect Wednesday.

Additional resources on wildfires can be found at: http://cresa911.org/wildfires-2020/. Updates can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/giffordpinchot/alerts-notices or call 360-524-1724.

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