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Heat And Winds Push Rowena Fire Over Rough Terrain

A fire burning in the Columbia Gorge has led authorities to order evacuations for 70 homes in the Oregon community of Rowena. Another 100 homes between Rowena and The Dalles received notices of possible evacuations. Highway 30 is closed in the area, but Interstate 84 is open.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared the fire a conflagration, mobilizing additional firefighting resources.

Justin De Ruyter with the Oregon State Fire Marshal says the fire is difficult to fight in the steep gorge terrain.

He described the terrain and conditions that face firefighters:

“We can’t get guys up on the hill. It’s a running fire at this point. We’re up against a few obstacles at this point. We’re under a red flag warning - because of high temperatures, we’re looking at 85, 90, today. Wind gusts - 35 plus. We’re already getting 25, 30, pretty steady. So all that together with the terrain, this thing is going to make some probable significant runs today.”

“When it’s running this fast, with these winds, getting in front of it directly, is not an option. So what we’re looking at now is what do we have between here and there, and how can we get in there and start protecting that stuff. When it’s running like this, with these winds, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. Based on what we’re seeing right now and what’s forecasted, we’re planning for 2-3 mile runs today. We’re hoping we’re wrong.”

De Ruyter says the last time there was a similar fire in this area, twenty years ago, it burned all the way to The Dalles. He says fire fighters are preparing for that possibility.

There was no lightning in the area last night, and the cause of the fire is currently under investigation.

Press release:

Governor Kitzhaber has declared the Rowena Fire burning in the Columbia Gorge, about 6 miles west of the Dalles a conflagration. The conflagration request came from Wasco County Fire Defense Board Chief Robert Palmer. The fire started around 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The declaration authorizes the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal to mobilize structural firefighters and equipment to assist local resources battling the fire.

Currently 70 homes are threatened and the fire is at approximately 200 acres.

The OSFM Green Incident Management Team lead by Incident Commander John Ingrao is managing the structural protection resources on the fire.

Three structural protection task forces have been requested. Task Force 1 from Washington County and Task Force 2 from Columbia County are on scene. Task Force 3 from Yamhill County is en route.

Total number of structural protection personnel currently involved is 59

The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office is reporting that seven homes are under an evacuation order.

ODOT reports that Highway 30 between Mosier and Rowena is closed.Check ODOT tripcheck for continuous updates.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter at the Mosier Grange Hall for those displaced by the fire.

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