Angry beast eats its way west: Cool, wet weather helps, but fire isn’t done by a long shot

Fire consumes four homes, runs west toward Hood River County line

national guard crews arrived this week to help firefighting efforts on the Government Flats Complex. Pictured here, Sgt. Mike Buchan looks for spot fires from a  Blackhawk helicopter.

Spc. Matthew Burnett
national guard crews arrived this week to help firefighting efforts on the Government Flats Complex. Pictured here, Sgt. Mike Buchan looks for spot fires from a Blackhawk helicopter.

More than a week later, the Blackburn Fire is still burning.

What began as a lightning strike during the early morning hours of Aug. 16 has swelled to an 11,728-acre conflagration that has consumed four homes and nine outbuildings as of Friday morning. The Blackburn Fire comprises almost the entire size of the Government Flats Complex of three wildfires burning several miles southwest of The Dalles. The other two fires in the complex have been contained for several days.

After several days of voracious activity, the fire slowed Thursday evening as rains and cooler weather slowed the flames that up until that point were consuming, on average, about 1,700 acres per day.

On Wednesday, the fire began to make a substantial run to the west, consuming timber and dry grasses as the blaze raced west into the Mt. Hood National Forest and toward the Hood River County line. The fire’s path and rate of speed was concerning enough for the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office to issue a Level I (get ready) evacuation notice Thursday afternoon for approximately 40 homes in the Fir Mountain area, including residences on Fir Mountain Road east of the irrigation ditch, Fir Mountain Loop, and Swyers Drive. That evacuation notice was lifted Friday morning for the aforementioned roads “due to favorable weather conditions overnight and lack of fire growth in the Government Complex Fire.” Sheriff Matt English said Friday morning he estimated the fire to be approximately 5 miles from the Fir Mountain area.

As of Friday morning, over 1,000 personnel were working on extinguishing a fire that has proven to be difficult to contain due to terrain and weather conditions. The fire has cost $6.6 million to fight so far and is 20-percent contained as of Friday morning. Firefighters have come from all over the state to fight the blaze and are also supported by the Oregon National Guard, which deployed one HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter, one CH-47 Chinook helicopter and one UH-72 Lakota helicopter, and approximately 20 aviation support personnel to assist incident commanders with fire suppression efforts. Numerous hand crews, engines, tenders, brush trucks, bulldozers, helicopters, and air tankers are also on scene to help put out the flames.

The Hood River County Interface Task Force suited up and left for the fire Sunday morning after Gov. John Kitzhaber declared the blaze a state conflagration Saturday evening. Limited to three to five days on scene, Hood River Fire and EMS reported the task force returned mid-week.

A wind change on Wednesday helped pump smoke into the Hood River Valley, reducing air quality levels, blotting out the sun, and sprinkling the area with small bits of wildfire ash. The smoky conditions abated slightly on Thursday and westerly winds forecast for Friday were expected to help push the smoke back to the east. However, with gusts up to 30 mph, fire officials cautioned that “conditions will remain at critical levels, with potential for extreme fire behavior and rapid rates of spread” and will “challenge firefighters attempting to contain the blaze.”

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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

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