Firefighters gain ground on Rowena wildfire

Firefighters gain ground on Rowena wildfire »Play Video
Firefighters work on a hillside along Interstate 84 on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 in their efforts to battle the Rowena wildfire near The Dalles.

ROWENA, Ore. -- Fire officials are upbeat about their progress in fighting a wildfire in Oregon's wind-swept Columbia River Gorge that destroyed one home, damaged two others and threatened more than 700 others.
   
Crews focused Friday on burnout operations to deprive the fire of fuel and improve containment lines. Firefighters also worked to create more defensible space around homes in the small town of Rowena.
   
Firefighters said the fire covered a little more than 5.25 square miles by Friday evening.

Gov. John Kitzhaber arrived to tour the fire and visit with firefighters on Friday. He called the response to the Rowena fire "truly remarkable" and issued a warning for Oregonians.

"This is a very explosive fire season," he said. "We're having enough trouble with lightening caused fires, so people should really be very intentional about using good fire safety practices when they're in the woods recreating or using power tools."

The governor said the Rowena fire could be "the worst we've had in decades."
   
The fire started Tuesday in brush and forced hundreds of people to flee. Many were allowed to return home Thursday, but the flames continued to spread despite the efforts of more than 650 firefighters. The cost to fight the fire was nearing $2 million by Friday evening.

The fire was human caused, but the specific cause is under investigation.

Jennifer Pincock lost her home in the fire. 

"My whole life is in there. Everything," Pincock said.

Pincock says it was her mobile home at the Foley Lakes Trailer Park just east of Rowena.

"Just the thought of being homeless is something I thought I'd never have to face," Pincock said.

Pincock says she got the order to evacuate Tuesday and thought she got lucky when the fire missed her house.

Then the winds picked up and the flames raced down a hillside towards her house.

Her home was gone when crews finally reopened the road to her neighborhood Wednesday night.

"I've never learned how to reach out for help. That's something I'm going to have to learn how to do. I think God's saying, okay you have to learn how to reach out for help," Pincock said.

Now she's leaning on her parents and her daughter for support.

She's trying to stay strong for them but didn't have enough insurance to cover the loss and isn't sure what she'll do next.

"This is where I planned on retiring. I live on a modest income. I remodeled my mobile home, put all my money into it, now it's gone," Pincock said.

The fire is 35 percent contained, but crews are confident they'll have it under control in a few days.

"We have gone hard at this fire for all the right reasons," said Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Commander John Buckman. "We turned the corner today and things are looking much better."

Fire officials said fire crews will take advantage of cooler weather Friday night and Saturday before temperatures soar into the 90s on Sunday.

Evacuation information for Rowena Fire

Level-3
4595 Hwy 30 west to 6464 Hwy 30, including Simonelli Rd, Tooley Terrace, Adeline Way and the Country Club.

Level-1
Murray's Addition, Foley Lakes, residences along Chenowith Loop West. Also Division Street Development residences along Seven Mile Road.

An evacuation shelter has been set up by the Red Cross at Dry Hollow Elementary School located at 1314 E 19th, The Dalles, OR.

Below: Watch Dan Cassuto's Friday 5 p.m. report on the Rowena fire.

Fire burns on the Washington side of the Gorge

Meanwhile, another fire is burning just across the Columbia River on the Washington side. It is burning along SR 14 at milepost 95. The fire is about 40 acres. A helicopter and fire trucks are headed there to get a better idea of how intense it is.

No homes are currently in danger.