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'It's Just A Tinderbox Out Here': Fire Near The Dalles Grows

By Molly Solomon (OPB) and Ericka Cruz Guevarra (OPB)
The Dalles, Ore. July 18, 2018 1:45 p.m.
A map of evacuation zones due to the Substation Fire as of 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

A map of evacuation zones due to the Substation Fire as of 9 a.m. Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

Courtesy of the Sherman County Sheriff's Office

UPDATE (July 18, 12:44 p.m.) — A fast-growing wildfire east of The Dalles, Oregon, that forced evacuations Tuesday night and Wednesday morning is expected to make a push to the south and east due to dangerous fire conditions in the area, fire officials said.


UPDATED COVERAGE:  Substation Fire may have been human-caused, officials say.

The Substation Fire jumped the Deschutes River near Sayers Road Tuesday evening, entering Sherman County by 10:30 p.m. By 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, the fire was burning more than 29,000 acres, prompting additional Level 3 "go now" evacuation orders in areas of Wasco County that includes Shearer's Falls to Macks Canyon.

By Wednesday afternoon, the fire is estimated to be 36,000 acres.

Patrol units will be in the area Wednesday to notify campers and boaters.

Wind gusts of up to 24 mph are expected Wednesday.

"[There are] very, very low humidities, we're looking at high winds and we're looking at very dry fuels in this area," said Lt. Damon Simmons with the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office.

"We've got these fine fuels that have been dried out and it's just a tinderbox out here, so all those things are working against our firefighters out there trying to stop these fires."

Just before midnight, the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office invoked the Conflagration Act, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Rachel Pawlitz told OPB. The emergency act allows the State Fire Marshal to dispatch equipment and firefighters from around the state. Officials said Wednesday that they will provide air support to firefighters.


The blaze forced immediate evacuations Tuesday evening of an estimated 75 households in Wasco County.

"We're trying to protect all of that," Simmons said. "This is a farming community so we're trying to protect people's crops and their livelihoods. All that is important to us."

The U.S. Forest Service confirmed at least one home burned, including several surrounding buildings on the property.

Level 3 or “go now” evacuations were ordered for 8 Mile Road at Emerson Loop Road to Emerson Loop Road and Company Hollow Road Tuesday. The evacuation area also includes all of Wrentham Market, Mason, 15 Mile, McCoy, Moody, Fulton, Kloan, Freebridge and Kelly Cutoff roads and all points in between.

In Sherman County, Level 1 or "get ready" evacuations were issued for Grass Valley, Moro and the surrounding area.

"There's a lot going on here for a small community, so it's really important we get out there and get those firefighters out there and working," Simmons said.

Smoke from the Substation Fire rises over the hills near Moro, Oregon, Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

Smoke from the Substation Fire rises over the hills near Moro, Oregon, Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

Molly Solomon / OPB

High winds near the Wasco County auction yard carried the blaze as it ignited nearby grasslands and wheat fields. It started just south of the Celilo Converter Station on Highway 197 Tuesday before it headed east and jumped the Deschutes River.

A second fire burning near the fairgrounds in Tygh Valley was put out early Tuesday evening.

Red Cross opened a shelter at The Dalles Middle School starting at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday for people displaced by the fire.

Other shelters have opened their doors to house animals. Home at Last Humane Society in The Dalles will house displaced dogs free of charge and Fort Dalles Riders Club can accommodate large livestock.

"With over 1,000 acres owned throughout the Gorge, Friends depends on county, state and federal agencies for protection – like many other local land owners in the National Scenic Area – during wildfire season," said Kevin Gorman, executive director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

"I urge Gov. Brown and members of the Oregon congressional delegation to continue their efforts to support first responders with the fiscal resources they need to effectively and safely combat fires in the Gorge. Friends also urges all hikers and campers to take extreme care in the Gorge, particularly during peak fire season. The Gorge is an icon of the Pacific Northwest and we all have a role to play in protecting and stewarding it."