Eagle Creek Fire Still Threatens Cascade Locks, Growth Expected

Sep 4, 2017
Originally published on September 11, 2017 4:57 pm

 Cascade Locks remained eerily quiet Monday morning.

No gas. No food. Businesses along the main drag were either closed or forced to evacuate.

The perpetual scent of fire, the sun's rays muted by smoke, and the occasional drizzle of ash greeted visitors to the town as the Eagle Creek Fire continued to burn about a mile away, threatening hundreds of homes and other structures.

As of Monday morning, the human-caused wildfire was about 3,200 acres, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. That marks a small increase from what officials reported Sunday.  

"The crews were on it all last night," said Ashley Lertora, a spokeswoman with ODF. "We have a lot of structure protection in place."

The smoke has mostly prevented fire officials from using air support, save for a few times Sunday afternoon when helicopters from the Washington Department of Natural Resource were able to dump water on the fire.

By midday Monday, planes could be seen dropping water again.

On Sunday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Conflagration Act, which allows the State Fire Marshal to dispatch equipment and firefighters from around the state.

"We do expect a little bit of growth today on the fire, because of the extreme fire danger weather that we have going on right now," Lertora said.

The Eagle Creek Fire started around 4 p.m. Saturday, likely by someone misusing fireworks, Oregon State Police said Sunday. Authorities said they have identified a suspect.

The fire forced 153 hikers along the popular Eagle Creek hiking trail to spend Saturday night huddled together in the woods. All were safely evacuated Sunday.

While Interstate 84 remains open, Lertora said the Oregon Department of Transportation has a plan to close the highway, should the smoke get worse.

An Eerie Stillness In Town

As Monday morning wore on, the holiday weekend traffic in town picked up.

But as visitors stopped through, they found little open, on what is typically a busy weekend for this economically depressed Columbia River Gorge community.

Rudy, who declined to give his last name, runs Joe Fish. He’s with the Yakama Nation. They sell smoked fish, salmon and steelhead.

“This is normally the biggest day of the season for us, we tend to make the most money this weekend,” Rudy said. “Town’s deserted. It wouldn’t be right for us to sell. We don’t want to put people in danger.”

Understandably, the fire is causing anxiety for nearby residents. As of Monday morning, 283 homes and other structures and 15 businesses on the south side of Cascade Locks were under mandatory evacuation. The Bonneville Dam, which provides power to the City of Portland and surrounding areas, is under a Level 1, or "get ready," evacuation notice.

Casey Bennett said he watched the flames Sunday night pour down the ridge of the gorge, like flowing lava.

“We already decided if we lose power, we’re loading our cars,” Bennett said. “If it hits the freeway, which is at the end of my street, we’re going to load up and leave. We’ve got a bunch of dogs and cats and ducks, so I’ll have to put ducks in the trunk of my car.”

Long distance hikers were also affected by the fire.  

Ben Connelly, from Maine, and Jess Dustow, from Sydney, Australia, began hiking the Pacific Crest Trail four months ago, starting on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Connelly said the fires in Oregon have prevented them from hiking about half the trail in Oregon.

“I’d say we probably skipped somewhere in the 200-mile range because of fires,” Connelly said.  

“Logistically, it’s been really tough,” Dustow adds. “Some of us didn’t budget for this either, having to hop off trails and stay in hotels.”

This story will be updated

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