PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the human-caused Riverside Fire now jumps to over 130,000 acres, Clackamas County officials are urging all county residents to be prepared to evacuate even if they are currently in Level 1 — because circumstances can change in the blink of an eye.
Many places in the county are under Level 3 “Go Now” including the cities of Estacada and Molalla. Although officials are encouraging people to prepare to evacuate while in Level 1, they are asking residents to still leave the roads open for Level 3 evacuees. Fire crews are also asking individuals in the area to not water their homes — in order to ensure firefighters do not run out of water while battling the wildfires.
Officials estimated the Riverside Fire to be at 130,052 acres and 0% contained as of Friday evening. By Friday afternoon, officials said weather conditions had improved for firefighting efforts thanks to a marine layer, lower temperatures and lighter winds. Weather conditions are expected to further improve for firefighting efforts over the coming days and rain is in the forecast for Monday.
“The fire conditions in Oregon and Washington are probably the most extreme we have ever seen in our lifetime,” Oregon Fire Marshal’s Lance Lighty said Thursday afternoon during a press conference in Clackamas County.
Clackamas fire officials announced Level 3 evacuation orders for Molalla just before 1 p.m. Thursday; the evacuation orders also include west to Highway 213 in the Molalla area and north to Henrici Road.
Residents of Canby, Sandy and Oregon City have also been put on alert with Level 2 “Be Set” evacuation orders. Officials encouraged Sandy residents to consider evacuating to ease potential congestion if the town goes to Level 3.
“We really need folks to evacuate when we say so,” Sheriff Craig Roberts said. On Friday he said extra patrols are in place to deter looters.
“We are working diligently while your houses are empty that extra patrols are filling those needs.”
Deputies also imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday. That curfew remains in effect until further notice.
“No persons other than those working in life- and property-saving activities (or civilian employees at night-shift jobs) may be upon the streets or public places,” said CCSO. “The curfew does not apply to first responders and community members working to relocate during the wildfire evacuations.”
Officials said a couple of trespassing arrests were made earlier in the week in areas that had been evacuated but cautioned the public to be aware of spreading misinformation.
“There’s a lot of concern that different organized groups might be involved in setting these fires,” said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts. “I can tell you that we have no evidence of that and that’s why we want to make perfectly clear that we’re looking at each and every tip that comes in. At this point, we have nothing to substantiate that there’s any group that is out there setting fires.”
“We are expecting severe and extreme fire behavior…rapidly growing and changing fire conditions,” a fire marshal said at the press conference said.
If you are in Level 1 or Level 2, officials encourage you to prepare. The current evacuation sites that still have room are the Clackamas Town Center (for RVs) and the Oregon Convention Center. The latter is also accepting pets.
Livestock animals can be taken to the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, Columbia County Fairgrounds, Hood River Fairgrounds, Oregon State Fair and Expo Center, St Paul Rodeo Grounds and Yamhill County fairgrounds.
On Thursday, firefighters in some parts of Clackamas County were pulled back over concerns the Riverside and Beachie Creek fires would merge. By Friday afternoon, officials said the fires were not thought to have merged. But getting a clear picture of the size and scope of the situation remains difficult due to the smoke. Officials hope to launch drones soon that can “see” through smoke and help them get a better idea of where the fire is moving, hot spot locations, etc.
Authorities expanded the Level 3 evacuation area at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to include all of Eaden Road and west to S Harding Road, as well as a small area west of Beavercreek Road which includes all of S Gard Road and Unger Road to the first part of Windy City.
The entire city of Estacada was ordered to evacuate around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday as first responders struggled to control several wildfires in the area, including the large Riverside Fire.
Breakdown of fires
The human-caused Riverside Fire, burning southeast of Estacada, had jumped to over 130,000 acres as of Friday morning, according to officials. Although we are waiting for newly updated information, as of Thursday afternoon, an estimated 230 structures, including 16 homes, had burned. On Friday afternoon, officials said two main fingers of the fire were threatening Estacada, with one of those fingers coming within half a mile of the town. A hot-shot crew was aggressively attacking the most threatening portion and putting down control lines. Officials were optimistic, saying the situation was turning in their favor.
Last updated on Thursday, officials say the Unger Road Fire has burned 200 structures, including five houses southeast of Hwy 211. Four structures, including one house had burned west of Hwy 211.
In Molalla, the Willhoit Fire has destroyed two structures, one of which was a house. Officials estimated it was between 10-15% contained by 8 p.m. Wednesday. On Friday afternoon, officials said one main finger of the fire had come within about four miles of the town but crews were actively controlling its progression.
Twelve structures have been lost, including six homes, to the Dowty Road Fire. It’s also estimated at 10-15% containment.
The Dowty, Unger and Wilhoit fires had burned an estimated 4000 acres by Friday afternoon.
The Spangler Road Fire — which started within the last 24 hours at Hwy 213 — had burned 10 acres, two structures (including one house) and was under control by 8 p.m. Wednesday
A new fire started on Elk Rock Island near Milwaukie in Clackamas County on Wednesday night was quickly contained. Firefighters were mopping up around 9 p.m. — less than an hour after responding to the scene. The fire caught in the trees and burned about half an acre. No evacuations were ordered.
One evacuation site is set up at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, and officials set up other check-in sites around the county. A wildfire information line is open for Oregon City residents: 971.204.0426.