PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Although smoke still hangs over Molalla, people are beginning to make their way home.
As of Tuesday morning, the Riverside fire has burned more than 134,000 acres. Crews are fighting it on the west side, trying to keep it from tearing through Estacada and Molalla. Firefighters’ primary focus is on saving lives and property — meaning the eastern forested side of the fire is currently unmanned.
There’s 100 miles of fire and still no containment, but the incident commander says we should expect that to change today.
“You should start seeing containment reported, but I wouldn’t expect it to be large numbers because of the size of the fire and the amount of work that will need to be done once we start moving out of the populated areas,” Alan Sinclair said.
Fire officials announced during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that three of the smaller fires (Wilhoit, Unger Road, and Graves Road) are 100% lined after burning a combined 1,131 acres. The Dowty Road fire is still only 30% lined at an estimated 1,452 acres. “Lined” does not mean the fires are completely out, though.
“We build the lines and then we have to patrol the lines looking for sources of heat,” Sinclair said. When crews are sure those lines will hold against any conditions, including wind, they will start calling those contained.
Even more out-of-state resources are on the way, as the Riverside inferno is the highest priority fire in the region. Planes or helicopters still cannot fly in the area due to the smoke, though officials do have drones up monitoring evolving smoke and fire conditions.
There will also be an online community meeting at 6 p.m. about the Riverside Fire on its Facebook page
Clackamas County evacuations
Evacuation levels have not changed Tuesday. When fire officials were asked when homeowners could expect to go back to Estacada — which remains at Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation orders — they said they don’t know yet.
“We know that there are those of you who have been evacuated who do want to return to your homes,” Clackamas County Disaster Management Director Nancy Bush said. “But please only return to the evacuated areas if you have been notified to do so by authorities.”
The city of Molalla, which had been at a Level 3, was reduced to a Level 2 evacuation zone Sunday evening. Several cities in the Portland metro area within Clackamas County had their evacuation levels dropped from Level 1 to normal Sunday afternoon. Areas east of Oregon City, including parts of Redland, Beavercreek and Highland, along with areas south of Sandy, including Eagle Creek, Firwood and Wildcat Mountains, were reduced from Level 3 to Level 2 evacuation zones on Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Canby, Oregon City, and Sandy were downgraded from a Level 2 to a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation order Saturday night. On Monday, an area south of Oregon City and Canby, that also included parts of the Mulino and Monitor areas, was reduced from Level 2 to Level 1.
Curfews for areas under Level 1 “Be Ready” were lifted on Sunday as well; however, the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will remain in effect for communities and areas under Level 2 and 3 evacuation orders.
Authorities asked people returning home to be cautious and check for the smell of gas right away. If it’s safe, people should inspect their homes, property and outbuildings carefully for any hot spots, embers or fire damage, Bush said.
Officials also reiterated their request for Clackamas County residents to conserve water for firefighters by turning off outdoor irrigation systems, taking shorter showers and using a broom, not a hose, to clean patios and sidewalks.
Longtime Molalla resident Rodney Keech returned home with his dog, Buddy for the first time in a week.
“I was one of the first ones back in my neighborhood — with all the stress last night, I got three hours of sleep, but when I woke up this morning, I noticed a lot of my neighbors came back,” he said.
He recaleds the moment they chose to evacuate to get away from the wildfires, saying it was “a big red ball” over the area.
Hazardous smoke levels still fill the air in Molalla as of Tuesday morning. Ash litters the sidewalks, covering cars and spread throughout the streets. Visibility remains low while driving through the county and roadblocks on Highway 211 remain in place to keep roads clear for firefighters.
“Ash and big chunks started coming down,” Keech said. “A lot of us decided to move at that time.”
Humble Pig Cafe handing out free meals
As Molalla residents begin to return, one local cafe is handing out free meals. Beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, breakfast and coffee were distributed at the Humble Pig Cafe as it prepared for lunch. According to the cafe — burgers are on the menu, courtesy of Highgate Farm Beef.
“We are not running our normal restaurant menu, for the time being,” a Facebook post read. “We are staying focused on loving and supporting our community. We hope to feed you today!”
Deputies also said the extra patrols and curfew in place are making it easy to spot potential looters — a dozen of whom have already been arrested.
Local authorities saw an upswing in looting last week. An attempt to steal a trailer from Good Samaritans, a generator and tool heist, and a car full of meth and heroin are just a few of the crimes Clackamas County deputies have responded to during the past few days in the evacuation zones.