PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Level 3 “Go Now” evacuations are still being declared across Clackamas County, including the city of Estacada, as infernos fueled by dry winds continue to devastate communities.
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. as first responders struggled to control several wildfires in the area, including the large Riverside Fire.
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.
Officials briefed the media late Wednesday morning on the four main fires currently burning in the county: the Dowdy Road Fire and the Riverside Fire are both burning near Estacada, the Unger Fire in the Colton area, and the Wilhoit Fire south of Molalla.
The human-caused Riverside Fire, burning southeast of Estacada, had jumped to 112,000 acres by Wednesday evening, according to Mt Hood National Forest officials. An estimated seven structures, including five homes, have burned. Thirty more were threatened.
Clackamas County officials said the other fires which started at various times Sunday afternoon and into the night were burning a combined 3,550 acres.
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.
Twelve structures have been lost, including six homes, to the Dowty Road Fire. It’s also estimated at 10-15% containment.
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.
Authorities emphasized that safety is their number one concern; large swaths of the county are under Level 3 (Go now) evacuation orders.
“We really need folks to evacuate when we say so,” Sheriff Craig Roberts said.
One evacuation site is set up at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, and officials said they’re working on setting up more shelters. Animals can be taken to the Clackamas County Fairgrounds in Canby.
Kathy Sowa, who evacuated from Molalla, said “there’s ash coming down from all over the place. You can’t even see out in your parking lot. You can’t breathe.”
“It’s crazy,” said Ron Sheler, who also fled Molalla. “Unbelievable. But I guess it’s pretty bad everywhere.”
Defending structures is the second priority. Initial estimates are that about 22 structures have been destroyed and another 600 are threatened. Clackamas Fire Chief Fred Charlton said he expects that number to increase.
There are 10 fire departments battling the fires, according to Charlton, and they’re expecting more personnel and resources from the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office. Air assets are also needed, Charlton said, so crews can get ahead of the fires.
“Some of these fires, especially driven by the strong winds, as soon as they get up into the crowns of the trees they move very quickly and that’s where some of the air operations can help or even getting in front of these fires so we can begin to slow them down,” he said.
There is a concern that several of the smaller fires could merge into a larger fire.
“We’re sort of at their mercy and certainly at the mercy of the weather,” Charlton said.
Crews are doing their best to figure out which direction the fires are moving, and to make as much progress at night as possible, because temperatures and winds have been increasing during the day.
A 5th fire
A fifth wildfire, believed to have been started by a driver, burned a house and one other structure Tuesday night.
“The Spangler fire was started at 9 p.m. Tuesday when an RV pulling a Jeep south was emitting sparks and caught fire,” the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office tweeted. “The RV pulled over and it started the brush fire.”
Crews closed a section of Highway 213 overnight, reopening it around 4 a.m. At that point, authorities said the fire at Spangler Road was “knocked down” after burning around 10 acres.
KOIN 6 News will continue to update this story.