UPDATE (11:31 a.m. PST) The Eagle Creek Fire burning in the Columbia River Gorge is now the nation’s top firefighting priority.
The designation, made by the National Interagency Fire Center, prioritizes national resources to the fire when officials ask for it, said Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office Lt. Damon Simmons during a news conference Thursday morning.
“It has to do with obviously fire activity,” Simmons said. “Another big piece of that is what’s threatened, what structures are threatened numbers of structures numbers of civilians.”
Three homes have burned and more than 1,800 people are affected by evacuation orders, he said.
The Chetco Bar Fire in Southwest Oregon was named the nation’s top fire priority late last month. That fire is still burning on more than 176-thousand acres.
The human-caused Eagle Creek Fire grew minimally Wednesday night due to winds. By Thursday morning, firefighters brought the containment level to 5 percent. The fire, which began Saturday afternoon, has burned more than 33,000 acres.
Police say a 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Washington is a suspect in the case. They believe he and others may have started the fire by playing with fireworks near the Eagle Creek trailhead. In Washington, the Archer Mountain Fire, likely started by embers from the Oregon wildfires, was 158 acres as of Thursday morning.
Crews were feeling “pretty good” about the progress made overnight, according to Fire Information Officer Lauren Maloney said. “Basically, everything went according to plan,” Maloney said.
A substantial increase in firefighting resources Thursday means crews will be more strategy-focused, Maloney said. Some of those additional resources will be placed at the Bull Run watershed, she said, where the fire has entered the administrative zone but has not reached reservoirs and dams.
Maloney said seven Union Pacific trains moved through the Gorge Wednesday. The U.S. Coast Guard has also started to allow some commercial shipping to resume on the Columbia River on a case-by-case basis.
While there was an increase in containment, weather is still a concern. Winds are expected to pick up again Thursday evening, and the area is still under a red flag warning for lightning.
Crews are expecting an increase in fire behavior, similar to that of Wednesday’s, later in the day Thursday, Maloney said.
The National Weather Service in Portland said there will be clouds on and off throughout the day, with a better chance of showers in the late afternoon and into the evening. The high will be around 80 degrees.
The amount of rain will be minimal, enough to wet the pavement in areas, said NWS meteorologist Evan Bentley.
“It’s certainly not going to be enough to help with our fire situation,” Bentley said.
Bentley said there’s a 30 percent chance of showers. If showers materialize, there will be a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms in the areas that see rain.
A community meeting at Bowe Theater in Hood River Valley High School is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday. A meeting is being planned for Friday or Saturday in the Troutdale area.