Anxious Eagle Creek evacuees can’t go home yet

The Eagle Creek Fire is only 7% contained

A fire manager stands next to a coverage map of the Eagle Creek Fire, September 11, 2017 (KOIN)
A fire manager stands next to a coverage map of the Eagle Creek Fire, September 11, 2017 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As firefighters now are in an offensive mode battling the Eagle Creek Fire, helicopters are flying more often over the 35,000 acres as smoke levels dropped.

Another community meeting was held Monday night at the Edgefield Amphitheater in Troutdale. Evacuees gathered, anxiously awaiting news that might bring them closer to getting back into their homes.

At this point, the fire is only 7% contained and crews are still working to secure structures in the path of the fire. Firefighters have been conducting controlled back burns in some areas to get rid of fuel that could help the fire spread.

Residents didn’t get an estimate on when they can return to their homes, but they know firefighters are working tirelessly to make sure they have homes to return to.

“I feel confident that they know what they’re doing and that they’re going to take care of us and keep our town safe,” Shannon Smallmon, who evacuated 8 days ago, said.

Air quality remained an issue in the gorge but Lt. Damon Simmons said that conditions were improving and crews were optimistic about containment.

Officials said Monday that the main priority was getting evacuated residents back into their homes and opening I-84.

A change in wind will allow fire managers to get a clear look at the fire perimeter on the east and south side above the Bull Run Watershed later Monday. Firefighters will finish mopping up along the northwestern perimeter Monday near Cascade Locks after completing a burnout Sunday.

Eagle Creek Fire evacuation list
Archer Mountain Fire evacuation list

The Corbett School District reopened on Monday saying conditions had improved and it was safe to return to class.

On Saturday, Gov. Kate Brown and other state officials toured areas along I-84 and said fire crews transitioned from fighting the fire defensively.

“Our firefighting crews are literally trying to draw a line in the sand on 3 flanks,” Brown said Saturday.

The Eagle Creek Fire also spawned the Archer Mountain Fire when, officials believe, embers jumped the Columbia River and sparked the blaze in Skamania County. As of late Saturday, the Archer Mountain Fire — about 10 miles northwest of North Bonneville — was 209 acres in size. An outdoor burn ban remains in effect for Skamania County.

Shelter relocated

The Red Cross shelter set up for evacuees of the Eagle Creek Fire in Gresham will move on Tuesday from the Mount Hood Community College to Harvest Christian Church, 624 SW Halsey, Troutdale. About two dozen people who are currently staying at that shelter are working with the Red Cross for specific relocation plans.

Another 146 people are sheltered at the Skamania County Fairgrounds. Only 22 slept inside while the rest stayed in RVs in the parking lot, officials said.

ODOT working on I-84

While eastbound I-84 will stay closed for at least another week, the westbound lanes of I-84 will open first — but not immediately.

“I-84 remains an active evacuation zone; the Eagle Creek Fire is still burning. ODOT is working closely with fire officials to determine when westbound lanes of I-84 can reopen.”

The Historic Columbia River Highway remains closed indefinitely, ODOT said Sunday.

To date, about 2000 trees have been removed but another 1500 still need to be removed. Falling rocks, especially around Toothrock Tunnel, continue to be the “biggest impediment” to re-opening the highway.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.