Steep terrain hampers wildfire fight, smoke fills Hood River

Steep terrain hampers wildfire fight, smoke fills Hood River

NEAR HOOD RIVER, Ore. – Helicopters dumped water and an air tanker dropped retardant all day Wednesday on a stubborn wildfire near Interstate 84 that affected freeway traffic and clogging the air in Hood River with smoke.

The wildfire, named the Milepost 66 fire, is burning in steep terrain in the Columbia River Gorge and closed one eastbound lane of the freeway from milepost 65 to milepost 68, about a mile from Hood River, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The lane remained closed throughout Wednesday so crews could park vehicles and set up gear.

After being discovered at about 8 p.m. Tuesday, the fire expanded from about 10 acres of land on steep ground to about 70 acres, according to the Forest Service. Crews were having a tough time reaching the fire due to the rugged and steep terrain.

Firefighters said early Wednesday night the fire was about 5 percent contained.

The fire jumped over Highway 30 early Wednesday morning and headed for more standing timber on private land near the Mark Hatfield Trail but no structures were threatened, Forest Service officials said.

During the night, the flames were clearly visible on the hillside but by morning it was mostly smoke as the helicopters moved in for their attacks from the air.

Hood River Fire advised anyone living in the area who has respiratory problems to stay indoors. Heavy smoke conditions are expected to continue through the night.

While the fire isn't a significant threat to any homes at this point, people are still worried.

"I'm real happy I have a metal roof. I have a new metal roof," said Cindy Blachly, who lives near the fire. "I have automatic sprinklers but I overrode the system to turn it on and get it going over here."

The fire was burning right next to some railroad tracks but trains were still getting through, but slowly.

A spokesman from the Forest Service said the fire is human caused, but an investigation is still underway.

Firefighters from Hood River County, the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service are responding to the blaze.

"My hat goes off to them," Blachly said. "They've worked so hard."

Forest Service officials said they have called for more equipment and air support to battle the blaze and hope to have it contained on Wednesday.

Whether the fire grows will depend on the winds and temperatures. KATU Meteorologist Dave Salesky said the good news has been that the winds have been light. What is problematic, however, is that everything is dry because of the long lack of rain. And he said weather conditions aren’t expected to change soon to bring cooler temperatures and rain to aid firefighters.

Fortunately for firefighters, the winds remained calm through Wednesday evening.

KATU's Valerie Hurst and Lincoln Graves contributed to this story.