Cooler weather has helped a firefighters make headway containing the 36 Pit wildfire near Estacada, and some residents were allowed to return to their homes Wednesday, but the community is still on edge.
More than 800 firefighters are battling the blaze which has grown to more than 4,000 acres and is 30 percent contained.
Estacada is a town of about 3000 people on the banks of the Clackamas River. Murals on the buildings downtown show people logging, fishing, and picking mushrooms in the Mount Hood National Forest nearby.
The wildfire is about 10 miles away, burning in the steep Clackamas River canyon, one of the most popular places to camp and raft in Northwest Oregon.
Estacada resident Jessi Carver says she loves that canyon.
“I grew up camping out there, fishing out there. I actually moved out here because I didn’t want my kids to have the limit of having to drive out here to enjoy it, and now it’s all burning up,” she says.
Carver says over the weekend, the smoke was so bad she sent her kids to stay with friends in Milwaukie.
Wednesday, the air was clearer, but tiny particles of ash still coat the town. Carver’s friend Kim Jackson Kurtz says she’s grateful to the more than 500 firefighters from across Oregon and Washington who came to help.
“It’s really hard to stand by and do nothing. I just wish it would rain. More than anything I wish for the rain,” she said.
Firefighters have been getting help from the weather, which has been cooler and more humid.
Incident commander Bruce Holloway says the fire has slowed its advance through the dry grass and timber, allowing him to send in teams to directly attack the fire with hand tools.
“Shovels, rakes, Pulaskis, hoes, those kinds of things, digging fire line. They call that boots on the ground with our tools and that’s what they’re doing to cut line,” he said.
Holloway said no homes or buildings have been lost. He’s expecting several hundred more firefighters to join the ranks, and hoping they will gain control of the fire before the temperature rises again this weekend.
Dozens of residents who had evacuated their homes were told they can return. But they’ve also been told they have to be prepared to leave again if the fire flares up. The Silver Fox RV Park has about 77 full-time residents and tourists passing through. It’s still under an evacuation order.
Highway 224 remains closed due to the fire. Mike Sapp, with the Oregon Department of Transportation, is enforcing a roadblock on top of a hill.
He stops a family of German tourists, a pair of mushroom pickers, and a man on a motorcycle headed to Bend. Sapp says he’s also seen a lot of people trying to get to Bagby Hotsprings, located beyond the roadbock.
He recommends a detour up to Highway 26. Smoke creeps along the hillsides below him. Bagby Hotsprings is also beyond the roadblock, and Sapp’s been telling locals and tourists headed there to take a detour.
Incident commander Bruce Holloway says the highway is extremely unsafe right now. The fire has killed the plants that kept the steep slopes above the highway stable.
“It’s not just a few rocks. We’re having actual landslides that are sliding down off this road, and timber.” Holloway says. The highway may remain closed for some time after the fire is contained