The massive Eagle Creek Fire burning on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge since Saturday, Sept. 2, jumped the Columbia River Monday, sparking a separate fire in Skamania County on the Washington side of the Gorge.
On Tuesday, residents in Skamania County, located just a few miles east of the Camas-Washougal border, learned that a separate fire was now burning on Archer Mountain, about 15 miles northeast of Washougal.
By Wednesday morning, that fire had grown to 112 acres — more than four times its original size.
Officials from the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office sent alerts out throughout the day on Tuesday, updating evacuation orders for areas within the immediate Archer Mountain area. As of this paper’s deadline, there were no evacuation orders in Clark County, and Washington Department of Natural Resources crews were fighting to contain the Archer Mountain Fire.
Skamania County Sheriff David S. Brown urged residents to subscribe to an emergency notification system at www.skamaniasheriff.com.
In Oregon, where the fire merged with another fire late Tuesday, eating up 30,000 acres of forestland, prompting evacuations as far west as Troutdale, flames raced through beloved areas of the Columbia River Gorge and threatened popular tourist attractions like Multnomah Falls.
Police said Tuesday that the investigation surrounding the cause of the Eagle Creek Fire was still underway, but did identify a 15-year-old Vancouver boy as a suspect.
Oregon State Police believe the boy — along with others — may have ignited the blaze after using fireworks along the Eagle Creek Trail near Punch Bowl Falls. Investigators are asking anyone who may have “heard fireworks or other explosions in the area of the Eagle Creek Trail/Punch Bowl Falls” between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Sept. 2, to call 503-375-3555.
The fire raged throughout the Labor Day Weekend and, by Monday evening, authorities had closed Interstate 84 in both directions from Troutdale to Hood River, Oregon. On Tuesday, state Route 14 through the Washington side of the Gorge was closed to semi-truck traffic. As of this paper’s deadline on Wednesday, passenger vehicles were still allowed on SR-14, but the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office was warning that the highway was “very congested due to the fires and the traffic being routed from the closure of Interstate 84” and said travelers should avoid SR-14 unless they absolutely had to travel through the area.
Residents living in the immediate Archer Mountain area were under various evacuation orders on Tuesday, from the Level III (go now) order on Archer Mountain, Smith Cripe, Franz, McClosky Creek and Kellet Roads, Dimrill Dale Drive and Victoria Lane to the Level II (be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice) orders on Foggy Ridge, Patrick Lane, Columbia Ridge and Patrick, Hills Berry and Mabee Mines roads.
For the latest updates on evacuation orders in Skamania County, visit the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook or call the Skamania County Emergency Operations center at 509-427-8076.
On Tuesday morning, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center was reporting that “a thermal trough will continue to bring hot, dry and unstable burning conditions from the Cascade Crest westward for Oregon and Washington,” adding that these types of conditions “have a history of resulting in significant flare-ups for ongoing incidents and rapid growth of new fires.”
Many area residents who were out and about in Skamania County on Monday and Tuesday reported seeing unreal destruction on the Oregon side of the Gorge.
Camas resident James C. Kling took photos from Cape Horn looking south-southeast toward Corbett, Oregon, very early Tuesday morning. He said the fires were devastating to his family, who considered the Oneonta Gorge, now burned by the Eagle Creek Fire, one of their very favorite places.
Former Post-Record publisher Mike Gallagher moved to Skamania County in 2015 and said he could see mountainsides across the Columbia River that were completely engulfed in flames on Tuesday.
“It was just horrible to watch,” Gallagher said. “Just an ungodly site.” Gallagher said he was trying to stay out of the way, but wanted to volunteer and somehow help the relief efforts. On Tuesday, after they discovered that the Skamania County evacuation site was allowing pets, Gallagher’s wife, Kelly, took the couple’s pet crates down to assist relief organizers at the Skamania County Fairgrounds site.
“We’re lucky to be on the Washington side, for sure,” Gallagher said Tuesday.
Air pollution from fires causes cancellations, indoor practices at local schools
Smoke from the wildfires drifted west on Tuesday, degrading air quality throughout Camas and Washougal, and dropping ash in many areas throughout the Portland/Vancouver metro region.
Schools throughout the region cancelled events and classes to help protect students from the high heat and the smoky air. In the Camas School District, administrators canceled some athletic events and moved others indoors on Tuesday. In Washougal, classes weren’t scheduled to begin until today, but district administrators said Tuesday that they had moved all athletic practices indoors except golf, which was canceled, and that they had also canceled the Canyon Creek Middle School’s back-to-school night and Washougal High School’s new student meeting.
The Southwest Clean Air Agency recommends that people stay indoors as much as possible, especially smog-sensitive people, and those sensitive to wildfire smoke.
This group can include older adults, children and people suffering from asthma or lung disease.
An air pollution advisory is currently in effect through tomorrow and could be extended.
Salvation Army establishes Washougal-based shelter
In Washougal, the Camas-Washougal Salvation Army set up a shelter for fire evacuees from nearby Skamania County at 1612 “I” St.
Michael and Peggy Scott, of Camas, dropped off several sleeping bags, air mattresses and an air pump at the Salvation Army site on Tuesday.
The Scotts, who are not members of the Salvation Army, also stuck around to help set up chairs.
“We like to give back to the community, when needed,” Michael explained. “It’s what Jesus calls to do — serve when the need arises.”
Pastor Samantha Wheeler said volunteers have set up the air-conditioned sanctuary to serve as a shelter from the smoke and heat. As of Tuesday evening, the sanctuary was available to any Skamania or Clark County evacuees, and had room for up to 50 people.
The Salvation Army also gathered other needed items, such as air masks, food, water, toiletries and blankets to offer at the impromptu shelter.
The American Red Cross also established shelters for people displaced from their homes by the Eagle Creek Fire, including a shelter at Mount Hood Community College on the Oregon side and one in Stevenson, Washington for those displaced by the Archer Mountain fire, as well as those retreating from the Cascade Locks area. Between Sunday and Tuesday, the Stevenson shelter had helped more than 150 people displaced by the fire.
People who wish to donate to the Red Cross relief efforts are asked to contribute money at redcross.org or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS or 503-528-5634.
Individuals and families evacuated by the wildfire and in need of shelter assistance are encouraged to just show up for help at one of the shelters. For more information, visit redcross.org/Cascades, Facebook.com/RedCrossCascades, @RedCrossCasc on Twitter or @RedCrossCascades on Instagram.