Sunday, September 25, 2022

Gusty winds fan flames, prompt evacuations, as smoke blankets the region

Fires continue to blaze across Oregon and Southwest Washington, and smoke hangs in the air over much of the region.

From Estacada to Oakridge, communities in disparate corners of Oregon are under evacuation orders or are being told to prepare in case conditions worsen, as high winds spread existing flames and new fires have taken hold. Meanwhile, nearly 50,000 Oregon homes and businesses in Portland General Electric and Pacific Power territory have had power shut off due to high-winds in an effort to keep downed powerlines from sparking fresh wildfires. And a number of roads and parks are closed across the state and in Southwest Washington. Here the latest wildfire developments across the state.

Wildfire in Lane County continues to threaten communities

The entire town of Oakridge in Lane County is under a Level 3 “Go Now” evacuation because of the Cedar Creek Fire.

Strong winds Friday pushed the fire toward the residential communities of Oakridge, Wesfir and High Prairie. More than 3,200 people live in the area. Officials asked them to evacuate immediately, and to head west, away from the fire.

The high winds and low humidity continued to feed the fire into Saturday, according to Bud Sexton, a spokesman for the Cedar Creek Fire.

“In fact, it’s extreme fire behavior today,” Sexton said. “It has definitely grown.”

Sexton said the heat from the fire is drying out grasses and other fire fuel before flames reach the area, making conditions even worse. Sexton said weather conditions are expected to become more moderate Sunday, but officials don’t yet know when people can begin returning home.

There’s a temporary evacuation point stationed at Lane Community College and the Lane Events Center in Eugene. More updated information can be found on Lane County’s website.

Brown invoked an emergency conflagration act in response to the fire to make more firefighting resources available to local agencies.

The fire was started by lightning in early August, but strong winds were causing it to spread rapidly toward residential areas.

A helicopter carries water on a longline to a wildfire near Salem, Ore., at sunset Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. By Saturday morning, skies across much of Western Oregon were tinged with a pinkish-yellow haze due to a heavy blanket of smoke.

A helicopter carries water on a longline to a wildfire near Salem, Ore., at sunset Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. By Saturday morning, skies across much of Western Oregon were tinged with a pinkish-yellow haze due to a heavy blanket of smoke.

Andrew Selsky/AP

Evacuations ordered near Estacada’s Milo McIver State Park

A fire near Estacada’s Milo McIver State Park took off Friday night, leading to an evacuation order for nearby residents, as gusty winds fanned flames across the state.

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office announced Level 3, or “Go Now,” evacuations late Friday evening, and the Red Cross set up a shelter at Clackamas Community College. Two more shelters also were created, one for people with livestock at the Molalla Buckeroo at 815 Shirley Street in Molalla and another at Bohlander Park in Molalla for people with RVs. Officials warn the park has no RV hookups.

Another evacuation order, a Level 2 — “Be Set” — came early Saturday for residents from south of Fischers Mill, north of Upper Highland, east of Redland and Ridge Road, west of Mattoon and Fellows Road in Estacada.

Public safety officials warn that all residents in the region should be prepared for possible power shutoffs to prevent winds from falling power lines and creating new fires.

Smoke now covers much of western Oregon, including the Portland region

People in much of western Oregon and Southwest Washington awoke to gray and orange skies Saturday morning as shifting winds blew wildfire smoke to areas previously unaffected.

Much of the smoke in the Portland region came from the Cedar Creek Fire, which was burning over 51,000 acres Saturday morning and only 12% contained, and the new fire near Milo McIver State Park.

And air conditions remain dangerous in most of northeast and southwest Oregon. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality extended its air quality advisory Saturday for Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, eastern Lane, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties. Malheur County was also added to the list of counties under an air quality warning.

Although weather conditions are expected to improve Sunday, the air quality warnings will remain in place until at least Monday. People who are especially vulnerable include older Oregonians, small children, pregnant people and anyone suffering from heart or lung diseases.

An advisory for Coos County ended Saturday.

Be alert for wildfire-related closures

Wildfires and firefighting efforts have led to road and park closures in many parts of Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Among the road closures, Oregon 58 is closed from mile point 13.2, at Lowell Bridge, to milepost 70, at Crescent Lake.

For an up-to-date map of closures and delays, check TripCheck.com or call 511. Drivers should also be prepared for stoplights that have been shut off as part of preventive power outages. In Oregon, traffic lights without power should be treated as four-way stops.

PacificCorp has closed all access to its Yale and Swift area properties in Southwest Washington Lewis River basin, including the Yale Day Use area and Swift Campground, because of fire danger. The Beaver Bay Campground, Cougar Campground and Saddle Dam Day Use recreation sites were closed for the season on Sept. 5.

Anyone planning to hike or camp over the weekend should check conditions before they leave the house.

More power outages as hazardous conditions continue

As of Saturday morning, Portland General Electric had shut off power to 37,000 homes and businesses.

That includes new outages to reduce fire dangers in Southwest Scotts Mills, South Molalla, George, Colton and Sandy.

Public safety power shutoffs began early Friday morning for Pacific Power and Portland General Electric customers in high fire risk zones. Rural areas prone to high winds saw the first power shutoffs. The full list of PGE shutdowns is available here.

So far, Pacific Power has shut off service to about 12,000 customers. Its full list is available here.

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