Local crews work Eagle Creek Fire on Labor Day
UPDATE: Two additional fire crews from Washington County were dispatched Monday and Tuesday to help protect the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge and other structures in the path of the growing Eagle Creek wildfire, which has now spread to 4,800 acres.
As the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge continued to burn this morning, fire crews from Forest Grove and Cornelius geared up to spend Labor Day working in neighborhoods threatened by the 3,200-acre blaze.
Forest Grove Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer said heavy brush rigs from Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and the Cornelius Fire Department were en route to the Cascade Locks area Monday, along with three firefighters from each agency. They were tasked with structure protection as the fire raced toward homes and businesses in the Warrendale and Dodson communities.
Oregon State Police said over the weekend the fire likely had been caused by someone misusing fireworks.
The local crews were expected to fan out into neighborhoods there "with the hope of doing all that is possible to safely save the property of our fellow Oregonians," read a post on the FGF&R Facebook page.
Deployment of the half-dozen local firefighters to the gorge came on the cusp of nearly twice that many returning from several week- to two-week-long stints on fires in central Oregon and the southern Oregon coast in August and early September, where Banks, Cornelius, Forest Grove and Gaston crews performed similar structure-preservation duties.
Tony Carter of FGF&R returned from the Chetco Bar Fire Saturday afternoon, where he and others prepared structures on the outskirts of Brookings from Aug. 21 to Sept. 2 as part of Washington County Task Force No. 15.
"We arrived in Brookings an hour and a half before the (Aug. 21) total solar eclipse and didn't get to see any of it due to the smoke," he said.
Once in place at each station, firefighters focused on preserving buildings and residential homes, much like crews dispatched Monday to the Columbia Gorge.
"We triaged the houses that were easily defendable," said Carter, FGF&R B Shift captain. "Some just need to be written off, but with others, you can trim trees, cut down bushes and take care of anything that might burn hot within a 10- to 15-foot radius."
Many Brookings residents had already been evacuated, Carter said. "We come in and start moving wood piles and furniture, cutting down brush, digging a 3- to 5-foot path around the structure to bare dirt and installing sprinklers, tanks and pumps if needed."
Despite operating under U.S. Forest Service direction, Carter said he would "often leave a structure wondering if the owner would be upset." His anxieties were allayed by one homeowner whose home firefighters worked three days to save.
"He spray painted 'Thank you!' on the side of his garage," said Carter. "That was really cool to see."
Carter and 11 other firefighters from Washington County — including Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue — prepped between 100 and 150 homes in the Brookings area alone.
"We had 13 in our group initially, but we had to send two home when a brush rig broke down," noted Carter, who was away from home for 16 days. They worked to preserve structures threatened by the Nena Springs Fire in Warm Springs for two days before traveling to Sisters to do similar work on the Milli Fire for one day. The rest of that task force's work was concentrated in Brookings, where the Chetko Bar Fire has burned more than 140,000 acres.
The fast-growing Eagle Creek fire broke out Saturday afternoon near the popular Eagle Creek Trail, trapping more than 150 hikers between that conflagration and the already-existing Indian Creek Fire. The hikers were rescued Sunday morning.
Firefighters with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Multnomah County, Wasco County, Hood River County, Washington's Skamania County had been dispatched to fight the fire before Washington County firefighters arrived on the scene. So far, they have focused on protecting structures rather than fire suppression.
Dozens of trails and three campgrounds in the gorge, one of Oregon's most popular hiking destinations were closed for Labor Day due to fire, smoke and poor air quality.
The Eagle Creek Fire had spread to within a quarter-mile of the town of Cascade Locks Sunday evening, Sept. 3, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting, a news partner of the News-Times. OPB also reported that officials with the U.S. Forest Service said 283 homes and businesses on the south side of Cascade Locks had been evacuated, and that people in 118 homes and business on the north side of town had been told to get ready to leave.