Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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Nakia Creek Fire breaks through containment lines, evacuation areas cover much of east Clark County

Authorities warn of a 'very dynamic situation' and urge anyone near the fire area to take precautions to evacuate

By , Columbian Metro Editor, and
, Columbian staff writer
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Editor’s note, 10 a.m. Monday: For latest updates on the Nakia Creek Fire visit: www.columbian.com/news/tag/nakia-creek-fire.


The Nakia Creek Fire in east Clark County exploded in size on Sunday, prompting a significant expansion of Level 3 mandatory evacuation zones affecting 2,903 residences in the rural outskirts of Camas and Washougal and Level 1 and 2 warning zones affecting 33,782 residents extending as far as Hockinson and east Vancouver.

Both the Washougal School District and Mount Pleasant School District have canceled classes for Monday.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office reported around 2:30 p.m. that the fire had broken through containment lines and was aggressively moving to the west and southwest.

The fire has grown from 156 acres to about 2,000 acres, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Containment is estimated at 5 percent.

There are reports of additional fires near Chelatchie Prairie and Sunset Campground within Clark County and several in Skamania County as well, according to the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.

A large smoke plume, blowing generally east to west, became visible throughout the metro area late Sunday morning as fire activity picked up. 

“This is highly dynamic, wind-driven fire with long-distance spotting,” DNR spokeswoman Trina Contreras said Sunday afternoon before a 3:30 p.m. press conference at Grove Field in Camas. She said emergency warnings have been sent to about 3,000 residents using the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency’s alert system.

Contreras said the fire had remained contained until high winds whipped up Sunday morning, driving the blaze to the west and southwest.

“The winds up there were really gusting, and we got some significant growth,” Contreras said.

Those high winds prevented the use of an air tanker on the fire earlier in the day, but Contreras said conditions had improved Sunday afternoon and the tanker was being used again.

The fire activity has increased as the area remained under a red flag warning for wind and low humidity levels through 6 p.m. Sunday. Southeast winds of 10-20 mph were forecast in the area of the fire, with gusts up to 30 mph and humidity as low as 22 percent.

The National Weather Service reported that an air quality alert remains in effect for the area through 5 p.m. Monday. The AirNow.gov website shows air quality in the moderate to unhealthy in parts of Southwest Washington due to wildfire smoke.

The Nakia Creek Fire started on Oct. 9 in an extremely steep area covered with a mix of brush, medium logging slash and timber. Prior to the fire’s expansion Sunday containment was estimated at 20 percent.

The fire had been smoldering and creeping with some torching observed and short-range spotting. Fire managers said the potential for fire growth remains, and containment lines are being put in place.

Contreras said there are 110 personnel working the fire with one spotter plane and one air tanker. A larger Type 2 team has been called in and will assist in the effort, she said.

Roads close, evacuation sites open

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has about 20 deputies that are in the evacuation area, as well as 30 members of the Clark County Search and Rescue, said Sgt. Chris Skidmore, public information officer for the department.

Several roads are closed off in the evacuation areas. The majority of the area is sparsely populated, but the department went in with loudspeaker notifications and are starting to knock on doors in the residential areas being evacuated around Northeast Lessard Road, Northeast Boulder Creek Road, Winters Road and Northeast Rawson Road.

“We’re asking people if they don’t have a house up there or are helping somebody try to get back to please stay out of the area,” said Skidmore during a press conference Sunday afternoon at Grove Field in Camas.

Folks who live in the area or are trying to assist those in the area are being let back in, but deputies are stopping and talking with cars in an effort to keep as many people out of there as possible.

“What we’re telling people is if they do go in, we may not be able to guarantee that emergency services or those kinds of things can reach them if it goes any further,” said Skidmore.

The sheriff’s department was working to close roads, help control access and assist people needing to get out, said Skidmore.

Evacuation zones have expanded repeatedly throughout the day and may expand more, officials warned. Updated fire and evacuation information will be posted at cresa911.org/2022/10/11/nakia-creek-fire-updates/.

A shelter location has been opened by the American Red Cross at Camas Church of Nazarene, 2204 N.E. Birch St, Camas, and at the Washougal Church of the Nazarene, 573 30th St., Washougal.

ilani has opened up parking lots 10 and 11 for evacuees. Those using the lots are asked to put a sign in their window saying “Fire Evacuee.” No RV services are available, and gray water will need to be dumped at the Gee Creek Rest Area.

For livestock shelter, call  360-607-2535 for assistance. Livestock had been being taken to Clark County Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield, but Skidmore said it was full.

Those in need of help can reach the Emergency Operations Center for Clark Regional Emergency Services at 360-992-9229.

“They can start trying to prioritize getting people assistance there,” said Skidmore.

The Washougal School District announced there would be no classes on Monday due to the fire. Cape Horn-Skye Elementary and Canyon Creek Middle School are both in the Level 3 evacuation area and have been closed by the fire chief. For those impacted by the fire, Gause Elementary School will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to provide on-site meals, support, and recreational activities. More information is available on the district’s website.

The Mount Pleasant School District also announced late Sunday that it had canceled classes Monday.

“This is in response to the Nakia Creek Fire to prioritize safety and to support families who may need to evacuate,” the district said in an announcement. “Our thoughts are with all of our families during this time — stay safe.”

Level 3 “Go Now” mandatory evacuation area has expanded to include the Larch Mountain Corrections Center and outlying areas in Camas and Washougal, including the Bear Prairie and the Ireland area near Livingston Mountain. Contreras said that as of Sunday afternoon, Larch staff and inmates were sheltering in place. CRESA reported 2,903 residences are in this zone.

Level 2 “Get Set” voluntary evacuation area now expands into Hockinson and north Camas and Washougal. There are 5,017 residences in this zone, CRESA reported

Level 1 “Get Ready” warnings extend throughout Camas and Washougal and as far west as Northeast 182nd Avenue and as far north and Northeast Sunset Falls Road. This zone includes 28,765 residences, according to CRESA.

Those in “Level 3 Go Now” should evacuate to the south toward Washougal River Road into Washougal.

“Please understand that this is a very dynamic situation and if you are anywhere near this area, you should take precautions to evacuate,” a bulletin from CRESA said.

Staying safe

The American Red Cross offered these wildfire safety tips for those in the fire area:

Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice and obey all evacuation orders from officials.

  • Back your car into the garage or park it outside, facing the direction of your evacuation route.
  • Keep your pets in one room, so you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Limit exposure to smoke and dust. Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Don’t use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.
  • If you’re trapped outdoors, crouch in a pond, river or pool.
  • Don’t put wet clothing or bandanas over your mouth or nose, as moist air can cause more damage to your airway than dry air at the same temperature.
  • If there is no body of water, look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks. Lie flat, face-down and cover your body with soil. Breathe the air close to the ground to avoid scorching your lungs or inhaling smoke.
  • Don’t return home until officials say it’s safe to do so.
  • Inspect the roof immediately and extinguish any sparks or embers. Wildfires may have left embers that could reignite.
  • Check your home for embers that could cause fires. Look for signs of a fire including smoke or sparks.
  • Avoid damaged or downed power lines, poles and wires.
  • Keep a close eye on your animals. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn them.
  • Wet down debris to minimize breathing in dust particles.
  • Wear work gloves and shoes with heavy soles.
  • Throw out any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Download the Red Cross Emergency app for real-time alerts, open Red Cross shelter locations and expert advice on wildfires. The Emergency app includes an “I’m Safe” feature that help people check on loved ones. Search “American Red Cross” in app stores, or go to redcross.org/apps.
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