Wildfires near The Dalles force dozens to evacuate

Wildfires near The Dalles force dozens to evacuate »Play Video

THE DALLES, Ore. (AP) — Dozens of homeowners in a mix of ranchland, orchard and timberland in the Columbia River Gorge were told to evacuate Monday as crews battled wildfires that were burning on about 5,000 acres outside this river city, a favorite hangout for windsurfers.

On Monday afternoon, the Wasco County Sheriff's Office issued a Level III evacuation order for Obrist Road west of the intersection of Dutch Flat Road. It was effective as of 3 p.m. There are about a half dozen homes under that evacuation order.

About an hour and a half later, a Level III evacuation order was also issued for residents on Mill Creek Road. At about 8 p.m. the order was extended to 6522 Mill Creek Road from the previous address of 9595 Upper Mill Creek Road and Reservoir Road. More than 50 homes are affected, fire officials said.

A Level III evacuation order is the highest level and means residents must leave now.

The American Red Cross has set up a shelter for evacuated residents at Dry Hollow Elementary School at 1314 E. 19th St.

Two structures burned Sunday afternoon, one of which may have been occupied, said fire spokesman Dave Morman.

The Government Flats Complex of fires was 12 percent contained, with full containment projected for Sept. 1.

One resident, Whitey Hilmoe, said he wasn't worried and was staying put.

"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "My property is so clean — I have no brush or grass that could burn."

Another resident, 74-year-old Jake Grossmiller, packed up some photos, valuables and clothes for several days in case the evacuation order came.

He set up a sprinkler in his front yard and kept an eye on the smoke rising behind the hills.

"I'm feeling pretty safe," he said.

Gov. John Kitzhaber declared the wildfires a conflagration so the state fire marshal could mobilize resources to assist locals in battling the blaze.

The fire burned within a mile of the water treatment plant serving about 12,000 people in The Dalles, said Tom Fields, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Structural fire crews were dispatched from Clackamas, Washington, Hood River, Marion and Multnomah counties to protect homes and the treatment plant, bringing the number of firefighters and support personnel to over 700.

Firefighters were warned to be ready for afternoon winds gusting to 25 mph. The Columbia River Gorge is known for its winds, which draw windsurfers and kiteboarders to the area. With its steep cliffs, the Gorge acts like a wind tunnel.

Two of the fires in the complex were contained, and crews focused on the third, known as the Blackburn fire, which officials said grew in all directions to 4,700 acres by Monday night because of erratic winds.

Public Meeting:

Officials will hold a community meeting Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue, 1400 West 8th Street. Information about the fires will be provided by fire officials.

Elsewhere, lighting fires started last month in southwestern Oregon continued to burn, but firefighters hoped to have some of them contained in coming weeks.

The biggest of them, the Douglas Complex, has burned across 75 square miles of mostly federal timberland seven miles north of Glendale. Low-level evacuation warnings remained in effect for the city of Glendale and outlying rural areas.

In the Rogue River Canyon, along the popular whitewater rafting section of the river, the Big Windy Complex was 20 percent contained at 29 square miles. It was projected to be fully contained by Sept. 1. Bear Camp Road, the primary shuttle route for rafters, remained closed.

The Whisky Complex six miles east of Tiller was 65 percent contained after burning across 26 square miles. Full containment was projected for Tuesday.

The Labrador fire continued to creep through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness along the Illinois River 13 miles northwest of Cave Junction. The fire has burned through three square miles, and a low-level evacuation warning remained in effect for cabins in the Oak Flat area, most of them on the other side of the Illinois River, but no containment date has been projected. About 80 firefighters were assigned to the fire, including three helicopters dousing spot fires.

Smaller fires continued to burn across remote areas of Eastern Oregon outside Joseph, Burns, John Day and Prairie City. Most were started by lightning.

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Associated Press writer Jeff Barnard contributed to this report from Grants Pass, Ore.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.