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News / Clark County News

Personnel on Tunnel Five Fire in the Columbia River Gorge almost doubles

Fire remains 5 percent contained with Level 3 evacuations in place

By Amy Libby, Columbian Web Editor, and
Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: July 5, 2023, 9:40am
2 Photos
The past few days smoke has been moving eastward due to the westerly winds. Tuesday has brought a wind shift from the east causing smoke to funnel westward and impact areas of Portland.
The past few days smoke has been moving eastward due to the westerly winds. Tuesday has brought a wind shift from the east causing smoke to funnel westward and impact areas of Portland. (Southwest Washington Fire Information) Photo Gallery

The number of firefighters battling the Tunnel Five Fire in the Columbia River Gorge east of Stevenson nearly doubled Tuesday, jumping to 372.

Resources on the fire, about 2 miles west of White Salmon, include 36 engines, eight crews, five helicopters and four single-engine air tankers.

The fire, which started Sunday near the community of Underwood, is hovering at about 550 acres and still at 5 percent containment, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources. At a virtual community meeting late Wednesday afternoon, officials said they anticipate containment will increase after Thursday’s shift.

The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center reported 10 residences were destroyed and 250 residences threatened, along with 15 nonresidential properties and 50 minor structures. Officials said Wednesday their primary focus is to protect homes and private dwellings and lands, including agriculture.

According to a DNR update just after midnight Wednesday, windy weather in the Gorge will challenge firefighters into the weekend.

“The main challenge will be gusty westerly winds the rest of the week. … Wind gusts 25 to 30 mph will be likely through the afternoon and evening” Thursday, the agency said, with wind continuing into Friday.

“Fire activity on the Tunnel Five Fire has been minimal to moderate most of the day,” the Northwest Incident Management Team 12 said on Facebook late Tuesday. “Late this afternoon, there has been an uptick in fire activity on the western edge of the fire. Single-engine air tankers and helicopters working water buckets have continued to help firefighters mopping up and keeping the fire in check.

“Aircraft are heavily utilizing the Columbia River for water. As a reminder, please keep away from working aircraft. Wildland fires are also a ‘No-fly zone’ for drones. If you fly, WE CAN’T.”

DNR said that although the fire grew to the west, the area did not change due to more accurate mapping in other portions of the fire.

A Level 3 Go Now evacuation order remained in place for a 2-mile radius around the fire, according to the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office. Evacuation alerts for Klickitat County have been canceled. Officials said Wednesday they are re-evaluating the evacuation areas.

State Highway 14 was still closed in both directions from Milepost 56 near Cook-Underwood Road to Milepost 65 near Hood River Bridge Road, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Travelers were advised to use Interstate 84 in Oregon as an alternate route.

The fire’s cause remains under investigation, though earlier reports said it was human caused. Officials are asking for any video from around the time the fire started.

A separate brush fire that started Tuesday afternoon was also threatening homes and prompting evacuations near the Western Washington city of Shelton. More than 200 homes were under evacuation notices, and a shelter was set up at a Shelton middle school. It was not immediately known what caused the fire. State fire assistance has been mobilized to work to contain it. A strike team, air resources and State Fire Marshal’s Office personnel were responding.

Assistant Metro Editor Jessica Prokop and Associated Press contributed to this story.