Editor’s note: Level 1 evacuations have been dropped by authorities. Click here for the latest developments on Thursday.
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Wind and dry conditions fanned a fast-moving wildfire on Wednesday afternoon near The Dalles, prompting evacuations and shutting down major highways in the area.
U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Stan Hinatsu said the so-called “Milepost 85 Fire” was driven by a strong west wind. The fire started near I-84 and jumped over the road, burning swiftly toward the Google Data Center.
“It burned right up to the actual pavement around the center there,” explained Hinatsu.
The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office issued Level 3 “GO” evacuations for multiple neighborhoods around 2 p.m. as the fire and smoke forced the closure of I-84 about five miles west of The Dalles. Officials said the poor visibility caused two minor crashes. Evacuation updates can be found here.
A helicopter dropped water on the fire, attacking the flames from above while teams from several fire departments including Mid-Columbia Fire tackled the blaze on the ground. Hinatsu said mop-up will be critical for this fire.
“These draws have the heavier fuels in them, so they take longer to burn up and take longer to put out so that’s going to be critical with tomorrow’s forecast — warm again but windy,” he said. “We saw what this fire could do — it could leap over the interstate. That’s our biggest concern that an ember doesn’t attach itself in an unburned area and then we are off to the races again.”
The Oregon Department of Transportation said the stretch of I-84 between mileposts 64 and 87 had reopened around 4:30 p.m. after crews removed downed power lines from the road. ODOT said I-84 would be closed later in the evening as crews worked to repair downed power lines. Northern Wasco PUD said about 320 customers were affected by the outage.
Highway 30 remained closed three miles east of Mosier between mileposts 60 and 72.
The evacuations were lowered to Level 1 “BE READY” at around 5:45 p.m. and residents were allowed to return to their homes.
Fire crews will work through the night and into Thursday morning, fighting any remaining flames and smoldering piles of brush. Hinatsu said some crews will need to get some rest but there will be a patrol doing mop-up and more resources will come in the morning to finish up. In total, the fire burned about 130 acres, including land near the Google Data Center and a large area near Taylor Lake.
By Wednesday night, the fire was estimated to be 70% contained. The cause is under investigation.
Hinatsu said Oregon experienced one of its driest Aprils and Mays on record and the Milepost 85 Fire could be the start of a tough fire season.
“This is a little bit early to have a fire of this nature to do what it did and that doesn’t bode well for the coming fire season,” he said.