Wind-swept Columbia Gorge fire grows to 2,000+ acres

Wind-swept Columbia Gorge fire grows to 2,000+ acres »Play Video

LYLE, Wash. – A highway in the Columbia Gorge remained closed Saturday night as fire crews tried to contain a dangerous growing wildfire.

The fire is burning outside of Lyle, on the Washington side of the Columbia River across from the area between Hood River and The Dalles. Over the course of the day this wind-accelerated wildfire grew by 500 acres. As of early Saturday evening, crews had few if any fire lines cut around the current blaze – so containment was at almost zero.

Another 100 families were being told to get ready to evacuate Saturday, after about 40 homes were evacuated by Friday. By Sunday the mandatory evacuation orders had been lifted.

By Saturday night the fire had spread to more than 2,000 acres in this Columbia Gorge area. However, slowing winds and cooling night temperatures helped bring good news for when this fire could be put out.

Nick Michel, fire information officer for Lyle's now-dubbed Old "Highway 8 Complex" fire, tells KATU.com the fire is 40 percent contained as of Saturday night. Michel said he is expecting full containment on Monday, Aug. 30.

Highway 142 was closed for 10 miles and part of Canyon Road also was shut down Saturday. By Sunday Highway 142 and Canyon Road had reopened. Fisher Hill Road remains closed.

Concern for those who stay
Over the weekend contract fire fighters and prison crews added to the nearly 800 firefighters battling this blaze. We have seen crews battling the wind and this steep terrain throughout Saturday afternoon. They also must protect families who have been told to leave but refuse to leave their homes behind.

For example, the Batten family has been watching the firefight from Johnson Road.

"It actually looks worse today then it did yesterday," said Stephanie Batten as she tries to wait the fire out.

Batten was told to leave, but she says she will sit it out and save her home and the 14 animals on her property if she has to.
 
"We kind of want to stay and protect what we got if we can," she said.

Her son came to help her get through this as the fire moved within three-quarters of a mile from her home. Many of her neighbors have already evacuated and her son Brandon knows getting her out could be the next step.

"I'm just waiting for her call any time, and I will be up here," Brandon says.

Others have left, but so far none are staying overnight at a Red Cross evacuation center set up in Lyle. The shelter is set up at the Lyons Community Center, which is right along Highway 14.

"A lot of them are staying with family, relatives they have out here or friends in the area," said Red Cross Volunteer Reba Clow, "and so they have come by here but have not spent the night."

Clow said many are just grabbing a bite to eat and asking for information.

"We're giving information as it's updated," Clow said.

The future
One of the long-term concerns is also for the Klickitat River, the birth place of some of the Columbia's largest salmon and steel-head populations. There are worries that if these hillsides erode after the fire they could ruin these prized spawning grounds.

Indeed, the Klickitat River was closed to fishing for part of the weekend due to the fire. By Sunday the river had reopened. 

Meanwhile the weather also is impacting the spread of this fire. The fire was pretty calm earlier Saturday. However, as winds kicked up during the day the flames began climbing up the trees.

Firefighters also are dealing with another major issue in Washington's Klickitat County as they try to cut lines around the fire. Crews say fighting the flames in this steep Klickitat River Canyon area can be especially difficult.

The weather also plays a huge role in what firefighters can accomplish. KATU Weather Forecaster Joe Raineri reports that the brisk wind over the past couple of days and Saturday afternoon in the area will start to calm down Saturday evening.

There is a slight chance of showers forecast for the area overnight, something crews have not seen in the area. Even more promising is a better chance for a "good amount of rain" Sunday and into Monday morning for areas now threatened by fire.