PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Multiple Clackamas County communities saw reductions in evacuation zone status as firefighters continued battling wildland infernos sweeping the county, including the city of Molalla, which was reduced to a Level 2 after being at Level 3 “Go Now.”
The Riverside Fire — now more than 133,000 acres and not contained — is the largest threat crews are dealing with. Reinforcements have been arriving, and Alan Sinclair, SW Incident Management Team #1 Incident Commander, said people should expect to see lines showing containment in the coming days.
“That work started prior to us getting here and I want to make that clear,” Sinclair said, a nod to local fire crews. “Our team’s coming into a situation where we’re having a little bit more favorable weather and things are coming together.”
Firefighters have fully contained two smaller fires and are making progress against two others, according to Oregon State Fire Marshall Incident Commander Lance Lighty.
- Wilhoit Fire — 776 acres, 100% contained
- Unger Fire — 378 acres, 100%
- Dowty Fire — 1,500 acres, 20% contained
- Graves Road Fire — 45 acres, 20% contained
Several urban areas in Clackamas County had their evacuation levels dropped from Level 1 to normal Sunday afternoon.
Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Clackamas, Happy Valley, Gladstone, Tualatin, Milwaukie, and some areas near Boring and Damascus are all back to normal levels, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
Canby, Oregon City, and Sandy were downgraded from a Level 2 to a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation order Saturday night, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
Earlier, authorities said that Molalla would remain at a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation order; however, shortly after 7 p.m., the city was reduced to a Level 2 “Get Set” evacuation order. Officials warned residents to keep an eye out for downed power lines and other hazards, and warned against bringing back live stock to the area.
The city of Estacada remains under the Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation zone.
The sheriff’s office is also lifting the curfew for areas under Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation orders, the department announced Sunday.
The 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will remain in effect for areas under Level 2 and Level 3 evacuation orders, though.
Clackamas County residents still under the Level 1 and 2 orders are asked to leave the roads open for Level 3 evacuees. Fire crews and disaster management officials have also cautioned anyone in the area to refrain from using water—or significantly limiting usage—in their homes in order to ensure firefighters do not run out of water while battling the wildfires.
“Every drop is needed for our firefighters in order to use the water to save someone’s home,” said Nancy Bush, Clackamas County Disaster Management Director.
So far, 33 homes have been destroyed and thousands more are still threatened. Crews are beginning to go out and assess the damage, but Clackamas Fire Capt. Brandon Paxton said it’s too early to know the exact extent.
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.
Extra patrols in the area
Sheriff Craig Roberts also addressed fears of crime in evacuation zones, as well as reports that residents have been stopping people at gunpoint in an effort to protect property.
“The first thing I’d ask them to do is please stop that,” Roberts said, adding that his office had reached out to a number of such vigilantes. “It’s illegal to stop somebody at gunpoint.”
Roberts said most of the people drawing suspicion from wary residents are actually in the evacuation zones to get their own belongings or help others.
“There’s a lot of panic and alert going on with the belief that people are running around setting fires … the last thing I want to see is anything tragically happen because somebody is overreacting to something they believe is criminal and it’s not,” he said.
Clackamas County deputies have stepped up their patrols in the impacted areas and evacuated zones. Roberts said with most people gone, anyone who might be up to no good “stands out like a sore thumb” to deputies. Over the past few days, authorities reported there were 31 cases, with 12 suspects named in about 10 cases. There have also been 10 arrests ranging from theft to criminal trespassing.
There’s no word yet on when people in Level 3 evacuation zones may be able to return home. Operations Section Chief Ralph Lucas said there is a lot of damaged infrastructure, weakened trees, downed power lines and possibly damaged structures that could present hazards to people returning home.
“We’ve gotta get all that infrastructure back up, out of the way and taken care of before we can put people back in there, for their own safety,” Lucas said.
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