Help arrives to battle wildfire in Washington state near Columbia River Gorge
July 6, 2023 By The Associated Press
UNDERWOOD, Wash. (AP) — Authorities have more than doubled the number of people battling a wildfire that has burned structures and forced the evacuation of homes in southwestern Washington near the Columbia River Gorge.
The Tunnel 5 Fire that began Sunday in the unincorporated area of Underwood across from Hood River, Oregon, had burned about 546 acres (221 hectares) and was 5% contained as of Wednesday, according to a post on an interagency Facebook page backed by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Nearly 375 people are fighting the fire, with more on the way including an elite firefighting crew to work in challenging terrain on the fire’s western edge, according to the post.
Joel Brumm, a spokesman for the Tunnel 5 Fire incident command, told KGW-TV that the terrain is very steep.
“There’s also a lot of complexity: the railroad corridor, the state highway, power lines … the helicopters and water tankers are dipping from the river,” Brumm said.
The National Weather Service’s red flag warning remained for the area through 11 p.m. Wednesday, with hot, dry and unstable conditions that could cause the fire to spread rapidly.
Fire activity increased Tuesday afternoon on the western edge of the fire, with helicopters and air tankers helping keep the blaze in check, officials said. Fire engine crews patrolled again overnight and tamed hot spots around the fire’s perimeter.
Evacuations remained in place Wednesday for an area affecting about 1,000 people, officials previously said. The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday that several structures had been lost, but it didn’t release further details.
State Route 14 remained closed Wednesday between mile markers 56 to 65 because of fire activity. Smoke and firefighting aircraft are visible from Interstate 84 on the Oregon side of the river, officials said.
The fire’s cause remains under investigation.
A separate brush fire that started Tuesday afternoon also threatened homes and prompted evacuations near the western Washington city of Shelton. More than 200 homes were under evacuation notices overnight and a shelter was set up at a Shelton middle school.
The Mason County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday on Facebook that mandatory evacuations would be lowered at noon and that those people could return home but they should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
The McEwan Fire had burned 257 acres (104 hectares) and was 100% lined by heavy equipment but not yet contained, DNR fire officials said on Twitter. Crews will strengthen the fire lines Wednesday in order to contain it, officials said. Tuesday’s use of fire retardant from the air was critical in stopping the blaze’s forward progression, state officials said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday authorized the use of federal money to help pay firefighting costs for that fire and previously approved federal money for the Tunnel 5 Fire.
Information about the cause of the blaze near Shelton hasn’t been released.