ODOT Reopens Long Stretch Of I-84
A section of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon closed for several hours Thursday due to nearby wildfires, according to a release from the Oregon Department of Transportation. At one point, the highway was closed for more than 160 miles between Ontario and Pendleton.
Three fires in Eastern Oregon continued to grow in size Thursday, and forced immediate evacuations in some areas. The fires grew due to high winds, low humidity and hot temperatures.
The Soda Fire spans the Oregon-Idaho border and has grown to 218,000 acres. At least 24,000 of those acres are in Oregon. The blaze is burning in critical sage grouse habitat and threatens homes in Owyhee County, Idaho. On Wednesday, fire officials reported that the fire traveled more than 1.5 miles in just eight minutes.
The fire has jumped Highway 95 north of Jordan Valley in several places. Carrie Bilbao with the Boise Bureau of Land Management said current conditions are causing extreme fire behavior.
"We have high temperatures along with high winds and storms coming through," said Bilbao. "The fire behavior analysis today estimated the rate of spread at four miles per hour, which is extremely fast. The firefighters just really can't keep up with that."
Crews are also struggling to contain the 13,000-acre Cornet Fire, located 11 miles south of Baker City. That fire led to evacuations in an area about two miles away from the blaze Wednesday, in an area called Stices Gulch. Several other areas have been issued Level 2 evacuation notices, meaning residents should be ready to leave. The fire currently threatens more than 100 structures.
On Thursday morning, Gov. Kate Brown invoked the for the Cornet Fire, which allows the state to bring in additional resources.
"The Cornet Fire reminds us of how quickly a fire can grow and how dangerous these dry conditions can be," said Brown in a statement.
Just four miles away from the Cornet Fire is the Windy Ridge Fire. In the last 24 hours, it’s grown very quickly and is now estimated at more than 15,000 acres.
“It started moving pretty aggressively yesterday (Wednesday) so our incident commander on the ground issued an order to pull resources back,” said Larry Moore, with the Bureau of Land Management’s Vale District.
Moore said the rugged terrain is making it difficult for fire crews on the ground.
“So we are attacking it aggressively from the air, especially today,” he said.
Two helicopters and at least eight airplanes are trying to establish fires lines, he said. It’s estimated to be about 5 percent contained. As crews fought the fire Thursday, it moved "aggressively" toward I-84.
“We’re doing our best to keep these fires as small as we can,” Moore said. “Conditions have really exacerbated the severity of the fires and the complexity and it’s really stretching our resources but we’re doing our absolute best to protect lives and structures.”
Around the Northwest
More than 5,800 personal are combating at least 18 uncontained wildfires around the Pacific Northwest. Both regionally and nationally, fire officials are at the highest level of preparedness: level five.
“We have a full commitment of our resources in the geographic area,” said Koshare Eagle, with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.
“Resources are stretched thin and that’s one of the concerns for being at this preparedness level,” she said.
So far this year, Eagle said nearly 80 large fires in the region have burned more than 300,000 acres. Compared to last year, she said, that’s about the same number of fires, but fewer acres burned.
With a limited number of resources available to fight the large number of fires burning, weather is also a concern, Eagle said.
Lightening storms could cause new fires this week, and strong winds forecast for Friday could grow existing fires.
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