Government Flats fire flares

Local fire crews dispatched to aid in Wasco Co. conflagration

smoke erupts from a lightning-caused fire burning near The Dalles. The fire was declared a state conflagration Saturday evening by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Scott McMullen
smoke erupts from a lightning-caused fire burning near The Dalles. The fire was declared a state conflagration Saturday evening by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Hood River County fire crews are part of a group of over 700 firefighters who are trying to extinguish the nearly 7,000-acre Government Flats Complex wildfire burning approximately 6-10 miles southwest of The Dalles. The Oregon State Fire Marshal reported Tuesday morning that two homes and five outbuildings have been consumed by the flames.

According to Wy’East Fire Chief Greg Borton, Hood River County fire crews have been battling the blazes since Friday morning; just hours after lightning strikes ignited the three wildfires.

“Friday morning, we were dispatched as immediate needs to help Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue,” Borton said Monday. “We came home Friday night, got to sleep, and then they activated us Saturday morning and we were up there for about 12 hours. Then the fire behavior got really bad.”

Borton, who was on scene Friday and Saturday, said the fires have been spurred on by windy conditions, making extinguishing efforts difficult.

“It’s burning in deep canyons and ridges and it’s burning hard,” he noted. “It’s a challenge.”

The Blackburn fire, which has burned more than 6,430 acres of land along Blackburn Canyon, is by far the largest and most southern of the three fires in the complex, which is burning dry grasses, oak, Ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir in The Dalles Watershed. The fire is approximately one mile from The Dalles water treatment plant. As of press time, the fire was listed as only 10-percent contained. The complex also includes the 66-acre Wells fire, located approximately 1.5 miles to the north and the 168-acre Government Flat fire, burning approximately two miles north of the Wells fire area, both of which are listed as contained.

At 8 p.m. on Saturday, Gov. John Kitzhaber declared the fire area a state conflagration, which means Oregon may be eligible for partial reimbursement by the federal government for firefighting costs.

After the declaration, the Hood River Interface Task Force, headed by Hood River Fire and EMS Chief Devon Wells, left with 13 local firefighters (four from Wy’East), four brush trucks, and a tender to go help with firefighting efforts. Several helicopters and tanker planes have been attacking the blaze from the air. This is the second time the Hood River Task Force has been dispatched to a conflagration, coming just little more than a week after the group was sent to John Day to fight the Grouse Mountain Complex.

The task force was called upon because of their ability to fight both structure and wildland fires — an especially useful skill considering the Government Flats Complex has burned two unoccupied sheds, five homes, and currently threatens dozens more structures. A level II evacuation notice was posted for 35 residents of Mill Creek Road and Reservoir Road on Sunday, which were blocked from non-local traffic. At 4:30 p.m. Monday, the evacuation was upgraded to level III and expanded to 50 dwellings, meaning residents needed to leave their homes immediately.

With the Hood River County fire crews departing Sunday morning, the annual Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service scheduled for Sunday afternoon in Odell felt especially somber. Borton, who presided over the service held at the Odell fire hall, noted the group of firefighters standing at attention to his left was smaller than in past years — their numbers shrunk by the call of duty. The safety of the firefighters weighed heavily on the minds of the firefighters, the dozens of people who showed up for the service, and Borton, who commented on how perilous this year has been for firefighters in the U.S.

“This has been a bad year for firefighters,” Borton announced to a silent crowd. “There have been so many deaths. All of Oregon is on fire.”

In a later interview, Borton said the summer of 2013 was “probably the most severe fire seasons since 2002 or 2003.”

Other speakers included State Senator Chuck Thomsen, who is himself a member of the Pine Grove Fire Department, and Wy’East Chaplain Ricky Walker, who read a poem, written by an anonymous person, who wanted to express gratitude to all emergency personnel who put their lives on the line every day.

“As the days go by, you are called upon to assist someone in need,” Walker read, “leaving your family known to you and love, knowing someday, something may go wrong.”

The weather is expected to stay hot and dry today, with temperatures in the low 90s. Wind is supposed to be out of the east today, which will help the wildfire burn back on itself, but may also drive smoke toward Hood River.

Latest stories

Latest video:

Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge


shadowjade says...

What's with the different numbers for the buildings burned? Everywhere else is saying 3 residences, 5 outbuildings.

Posted 21 August 2013, 5:20 p.m. Suggest removal

Log in to comment

News from our Community Partners