It was quiet near exit 76 for Rowena in the Columbia Gorge, about 7 miles from The Dalles, except for passing traffic on Interstate 84. On the steep hillside above the highway, the dry brush and trees smoldered and smoke filled the sky.
Helicopters looped around the area, dumping small amounts of water on the flames before returning to a small pond further east. It didn’t seem like enough for the growing Rowena wildfire, which is now threatening some 170 homes. There was no question that there was smoke, but I couldn’t smell it — it was kicked away from the highway by the 35 mph winds, which also fueled the fires.
Oregon fire officials say the fire sparked some time around 9 p.m. Tuesday night, and seven houses were evacuated by 9:30 p.m. Another 70 homes were evacuated early Wednesday afternoon.
It’s still too early to tell if this fire will join other large fires this summer that damaged homes. A spokesman with the firefighting effort told OPB’s Conrad Wilson that they’re not even sure how big the blaze is yet. It could be anywhere from 100 to more than 200 acres.
On Wednesday morning, Gov. John Kitzhaber mobilized firefighters and resources from Columbia, Washington and Yamhill counties to assist in efforts.
A Red Cross relief shelter in neighboring Mosier, Oregon has yet to see any evacuees. Julia Bishop, a volunteer with the organization, says that they’re prepared for some 50 people, but the shelter is really a last resort. She adds that they’d prefer it this way, because it means that people have a more comfortable place to stay and access to necessities.
The Rowena wildfire joins the long laundry list of some 22 wildfires burning in Oregon.