Blaze to shutter I-84 eastbound for 7 days
Interstate 84 eastbound will remain closed in the Columbia River Gorge for at least a week, fire officials say, though westbound I-84 is expected to open sooner.
Officials now say roughly 3,500 fire-damaged trees must be removed before I-84 is safe for public traffic. At least 2,000 trees have already been removed by contractors.
Oregon Department of Transportation officials say rocks continue to fall from the eastern slopes of I-84 near Toothrock Tunnel at Cascade Locks, and workers are currently mitigating the issue.
Firefighters had "a really good day" on Sunday, though the latest infrared scans show the total acreage affected by the Eagle Creek blaze has increased to approximately 34,000 acres, a 1,000 acre rise.
The fire has been most active in its northeast corner near Herman Creek. Helicopter bucket drops should prevent the conflagration from jumping the waterway, officials report.
Humidity is expected to decrease in the first half of the week, while wind speeds should remain moderate — more good news for first responders.
"All in all, we're in about as good as shape as we could be on this fire," fire manager Jim Whittington told reporters Monday, Sept. 11. "We're continuing to pursue our strategy of building the box around (the fire) in case we need that."
Five firefighting crews were released to their home departments after authorities determined that most structures in rural Multnomah County are safe from flames. Evacuation levels remain unchanged.
"The air quality is pretty bad through the gorge right now. That's because the smoke is swirling around in there and sitting down (not increasing in intensity)," noted Damon Simmons, a fire official. "It's just awful for people that are in the area."
The Columbia River has been reopened for all recreational and commercial traffic, though Coast Guard leaders request that boaters give firefighting operations on the river 500 yards of space.
The number of refugees sheltering from the disaster has decreased to 24 people in the Mt. Hood Community College shelter, while the number at the Stevenson, Wash., shelter has increased to 146 people.
Officials noted the special significance of Monday, the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in New York City in 2001. The daily briefing in the restricted zone began with a flag raising and moment of silence.
"It's a day that means a lot to everyone, and is of particular importance to those of us in the fire community," Whittington said.