Officials: Human-caused Mosier Creek Fire destroys structures

Wildfires

Governor Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act Wednesday night

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Mosier Creek Fire burning in the Columbia River Gorge is human-caused and has destroyed at least four structures, officials said Thursday.

First sparking on Wednesday afternoon, the Mosier Creek Fire had grown to about 800 acres with only 5% containment as of Thursday morning. Officials believe that flames were caused by a human. The Department of Forestry describes the blaze as aggressive and fast, saying some of the active fire behavior hampered firefighters’ efforts to establish containment lines overnight. Ground crews will be supported Thursday by large air tankers and helicopter water drops, ODF says.

Approximately 900 people have been evacuated as the fire continues to threaten several hundred homes and other structures.

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.

Large swaths of ground burned by the Mosier Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge, Aug. 13, 2020. (Courtesy of Ashley Pierce)

Crews, which have established about 75% of a line of defense against the inferno, are keeping an eye on the east and south side of the fire. Winds are expected to be at about 8 to 10 mph Thursday afternoon, with gusts of up to 30 mph. Fire crews from Clackamas, Marion, Multnomah, Washington, Polk, Yamhill, Lincoln counties and Central Oregon have been brought in to protect homes and other structures.

Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act Wednesday night. The emergency measure authorizes the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal to mobilize resources to help local crews battling the fire. The act is invoked when officials decide that a potentially deadly fire is beyond the means of local firefighting capabilities.

“With high temperatures and weather conditions helping fires grow quickly, I have invoked an emergency declaration to make more state resources available to the fire crews on the front lines in Wasco County and the Columbia River Gorge at the Mosier Creek fire,” Brown said. “I ask Oregonians to remember that preventing wildfires is critical this year, especially as we have fire crews on the frontlines during this pandemic. Be cautious and honor all burn bans, and keep our fire crews in your thoughts as they fight to protect our communities and the landscapes that surround them.”

On Thursday morning, the State Fire Marshal mobilized more firefighters and equipment to assist local resources battling the fire. There are now eight structural task forces from Clackamas, Washington, Marion, Yamhill, Deschutes, Columbia, Polk/Lincoln and Multnomah counties, along with personnel from the OSFM assisting with the effort.

Rich Tyler with the State Fire Marshal’s office said the fire is mostly devouring grass, oak and pine trees. He said their main concern Thursday afternoon was the weather.

“Sides they are concerned about are the south and east side of the fire, keeping a good eye on that this afternoon,” Tyler said. “Winds are projected to be 8 to 12 miles an hour gusting to 30, relative humidity in the high teens to 20 percent.”

Firefighters are also contending with the ongoing pandemic as they tackle the blaze.

“This is not a normal summer with the normal wildfire — we’ve been here before, we’ve done this before — we haven’t done this with COVID,” Tyler said. “We are going to do everything we can to separate ourselves from the citizens in town yet still be able to do our job and do it in a way where are not spreading COVID.”

Thursday night Tyler sounded a little optimistic.

“Our biggest goal tonight is keeping the fire from jumping the roads down there on the south side of the fire. The fire lines that were put in and working along that roadway have held throughout the day,” he said. “We’re hoping to hold that tonight while the winds continue, and if we can then tomorrow we’ll really have a good start on really getting this fire contained.”

Officials say they’re optimistic moving forward — but know things can change with a turn of the winds.

People fled quickly

KOIN 6 News has already learned of a family who lost their home and everything inside.

Other nearby residents talked about the emergency plans they’ve been making as the fire encroaches.

“It’s worrying us because it’s moving a lot closer then we thought it originally was,” said Lucinda Pierce who lives two miles from the fire.

“It’s crazy but we live in the middle of nowhere so it’s to be expected,” said Travis Pierce.

“We saw a lot of smoke, when the winds started picking that’s when we go concerned and with the planes and everything its kind of unpredictable at this moment,” said Ashley Pierce. “We have a backup route because we are at a dead-end—we are trying to figure a way out just in case.”

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.

KOIN 6 News will follow this story and provide updates as they become available.

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