THE DALLES, Ore. (KOIN) — Firefighters battling the Mosier Creek Fire had a goal going into Friday: Keep the fire from jumping the lines so they could get a firm grip on the fire that destroyed at least four structures and has now devoured more than 971 acres.
By Friday morning, the wildfire was 10% contained as firefighters have established about 75% of a line of defense. Officials say the fire has reached 971 acres — updated from 800 the day before. As we head into a weekend with extreme heat and high fire danger in the forecast, some officials are worried about what that means for the blaze.
“When we get the triple digits this time of year, relative humidity drops, we get wind and then fire growth is very, very rapid,” spokesperson for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office Lieutenant Rich Tyler explained in a briefing on Friday morning. However, he said winds are expected to be calmer Friday which will allow crews to further secure the defense line.
Officials say within the last 24 hours, fire crews slowed the growth of the fire in the gorge. They said Osborne Cutoff Road has helped keep the fire contained on the south end of the blaze and that crews are making good headway in getting the fire contained.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has officially authorized the use of federal funds to help with firefighting costs, KOIN 6 learned. Late Wednesday night, FEMA Region 10 Administrator Mike O’Hare approved the state’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant. This came after O’Hare determined “the fire threatened to cause such destruction as would constitute a major disaster.”
Tyler said because of the combined effort with the different departments and from the governor’s office, things are going smoothly.
Investigators determined the Mosier Creek Fire was human-caused. On Thursday, ground crews were supported by large air tankers and helicopter water drops, the Oregon Department of Forestry said. It grew to about 800 acres on Thursday and is burning brush, oak, and timber southeast of Mosier.
Approximately 900 people have been evacuated as the fire continues to threaten several hundred homes and other structures. Of the four structures destroyed by the blaze so far, two were homes.
Late Wednesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Brown said residents of Osburne Cutoff, Vensel, Catron, Dry Creek, Carroll, Morgenson, and from Chenoweth Airport to Vensel/Ketchum road are on Level 3 “GO” evacuations.
The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office said residents at the intersection of Dry Creek across Seven Mile to Foley Lakes intersection, back up to Chenoweth Road West to Chenoweth Airport are in Level 2 “GET READY” and all of Browns Creek Road from Chenoweth to Wells roads are under Level 1 orders. They later added everyone east of State Road from Evergreen Terrace to Dry Creek Road to the Level 2 orders.
COVID-19 is yet another challenge facing those battling the blaze. Officials say firefighters are staying in small groups, reducing interactions and separating the living conditions.
“So if there is exposure, it’s not spread throughout the camp. Plus we’ve created a bubble, if you will, between us and the community,” Tyler said. “The community is already dealing with COVID and we don’t’ want to bring it to them — nor do we want to get COVID from them.”
People fled quickly
The Red Cross is providing shelter to evacuees at The Shilo Inn in The Dalles at 3223 Bret Clodfelter Way. Because of COVID concerns, the Red Cross opted to house evacuees in hotels rather than community centers.
“Rather than having a huge gymnasium full of cots, people are coming to the Shilo Inn,” said Darrell Fuller, a Red Cross volunteer from Keizer. “Instead of having a cafeteria full of food, we are providing food for people to take to their rooms.”
Olivia Rodriguez-Perez and dog Dakota were among the evacuees staying at the Shilo Inn. Olivia said the family had to leave quickly and couldn’t take everything with them and hopes that firefighters can save their house.
“When you are driving a little bit away from it, all you can see is this big ball of smoke that’s coming up from the hills,” Olivia said. “My mom started crying because pictures, memories are all over there and we couldn’t get them all. And she just wants to get back so everything is fine and safe.”
Large animal evacuation resources can be accessed through the Alpine Veterinary Hospital at 541.386.6658.
Oregon Department of Forestry officials will be hosting a media briefing at 9 a.m. on Friday. KOIN 6 News will follow this story and provide updates as they become available.