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News / Clark County News

Tunnel Five Fire in Columbia River Gorge still at 5% containment; evacuation levels expand

By Amy Libby, Columbian Web Editor
Published: July 6, 2023, 2:00pm

More personnel arrived in the Columbia River Gorge on Wednesday to fight the Tunnel Five Fire, which is holding steady in size, and remains at 5 percent containment.

Evacuation areas were expanded on Thursday, according to the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office, with some expansion of the Level 3 Go Now area and Level 2 Be Set areas added to the east and west of the Level 3 area.

“Significant changes are a level reduction on the eastern portion of the affected area and an increased notice to the west,” the agency said on Facebook. “If you have any questions regarding your evacuation level, please call 509-427-8076.”

According to a late Wednesday update from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the number of firefighters battling the blaze that started Sunday about 2 miles west of White Salmon jumped to 461. Resources on the fire include 39 engines, 10 crews, five helicopters and four single-engine air tankers.

“Firefighters are working diligently to protect the values at risk in the effected fire area. The railroad passes through the main fire area and work is being done to protect the tracks through the corridor to minimize interruptions. The tracks are also utilized as a hold and improve line for firefighters to be able to get the upper hand on gaining containment of the fire’s perimeter,” Northwest Incident Management Team 12 said on Facebook late Wednesday.

The wildfire grew slightly to 556 acres and is slowly moving west, according to DNR. “Structures were also prepped and fuels burned ahead of the fire reaching that location in the Shaddox Springs Rd area and along the Cook-Underwood Rd. Helicopters were used to cool pockets of heat near the fireline.”

The Red Flag warning in Western Washington expired Wednesday though breezy conditions are still expected in the Gorge for the next few days and are expected to challenge firefighting efforts.

The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office hosted a community meeting Wednesday night for those affected by the fire. Officials said they anticipate containment will increase after Thursday’s shift.

State Highway 14 remains closed between mileposts 56 and 65, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Eastbound travelers can detour at Bridge of the Gods to I-84 then onto Hood River Bridge. Westbound travelers can detour at Hood River Bridge to I-84 then onto Bridge of the Gods.

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.

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.