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Columbia River Gorge Fires 'Not Over' Yet, Officials Caution

The Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge continues to burn, though not nearly as wildly as it did a week ago.

At a Monday night meeting in Troutdale, fire and law enforcement officials briefed members of the public about how firefighters are tackling the roughly 34,000-acre blaze.

"We've developed a strategy that we're just going to have to let it burn," said Rick Miller, operations section chief on the Eagle Creek Fire.

Miller said firefighters have put down a number of fire lines on all sides of the fire that they'll test in the coming days to ensure the lines hold. He said the geography makes the Gorge a particularly difficult place to fight wildfires. In places, high cliffs are an advantage, while in others they make it challenging to create strong firebreaks.

Cooler weather and lighter winds in the last few days have helped crews make steady gains in containing the blaze, which firefighting officials say may have been started by a firecracker.

Interstate 84 remains closed in both directions through much of the Gorge. Officials with the Oregon Department of Transportation said Monday night that I-84 westbound would reopen first, but they don't know exactly when that will be. The eastbound lanes will require more time, perhaps another week, to clear rocks and other debris. ODOT said Monday they’ve removed about 2,500 trees that were at risk of falling onto I-84, but there’s still another 1,000 that need to be cleared before the highway can reopen.

ODOT officials haven't even started to assess the Historic Columbia River Highway, but they say the roadway is badly damaged from the fire.

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese told the Troutdale audience that fire lines will be tested this week.

"We're going to see what happens as the winds shift in the next couple days and whether those lines hold to protect our homes and our property," Reese said. "If they do, as we hope they will, then I think there's an opportunity to do an assessment and do staged returns into the areas that are impacted."

Reese said not everyone will go back into their homes at the same time. Because of the fire, areas like Dodson and Warrendale are hard to reach.

"Access is going to be limited because there's active fire crews in the area doing their work," Reese said.

Tree falls and rock slides continue to be a danger in those areas as well.

"We want to make sure as people return that they're safe," Reese said. "This event is not over."

Fire officials also provided an update on the Archer Mountain Fire burning on the Washington side of the Gorge.

"We think that that fire will be contained tomorrow afternoon," said Lynn Burditt, U.S. Forest Service area manager for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

The fire began last week after the Eagle Creek Fire jumped the Columbia River.

Editor's Note: Following the publication of this story, the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office clarified its firefighting strategy with the Eagle Creek Fire as a "full suppression" effort.

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<p>The Eagle Creek Fire as seen across the Columbia River in Stevenson, Washington, Sept. 8, 2017.</p>

Conrad Wilson


The Eagle Creek Fire as seen across the Columbia River in Stevenson, Washington, Sept. 8, 2017.

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.