An estimated 50 homes and 150 other outbuildings were destroyed by the wildfires in Clackamas County, officials were informed during their first official walk-through in the burned areas Wednesday.
The tally includes the Dodge Community Church, an InFaith: Northwest Oregon Fellowship of Churches-affiliated faith community that has been serving rural Estacada since 1947. Its historic building was leveled by the Riverside Fire between Sept. 8 and 9.
The tour included Clackamas County commissioners along with Molalla Mayor Keith Swigart and Estacada Mayor Sean Drinkwine — those cities being two of the incorporated communities that were most threatened by the fires that began in the rural central part of the county and spread westward and northward.
Officials hosted a news conference afterward to thank firefighters, both from Clackamas County and from as far away as North Carolina, Arizona and even British Columbia, Canada.
They also highlighted work by the sheriff’s office, volunteers and community members who helped their neighbors evacuate with pets and livestock and even fight the fires — often in “hillbilly crews” of loggers, contractors, farmers and other civilians who banded together to protect homes and properties in an hour of need.
In other news, representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, are in Molalla and Estacada this week to help impacted residents register for distaster assistance. More information is available on the county’s website at clackamas.us/wildfires.
The Riverside Fire — the largest in Clackamas County — has burned more than 138,000 acres and was upgraded to 34% contained as of Thursday.
Showers and breezy conditions will continue across the area Thursday with cool temperatures and high humidity. Gusty winds are also expected, especially at higher elevations.
Despite the much-improved outlook, fire officials are still urging caution — particularly in areas where trees may have been weakened by the fires.
“Always be aware of your surroundings,” said Deputy Incident Commander Dave Bales. “Avoid areas where fire-weakened trees may fall. The risk increases when the ground is wet and when it’s windy.”
The fire continues to smolder in areas where heavy fuels including logs, stumps, and deep layers of needles are sheltered from rain. Smoke may be visible within the fire’s perimeter.
Personnel is continuing the less glamourous side of wildland firefighting: mopping up and patrolling the fire line. Fire crews and heavy equipment continue to expand and strengthen firelines where they can do so safely and effectively.
“The continued increase in containment is due to all the hard work of firefighters,” said Incident Commander Alan Sinclair. “We’re currently up to 34% containment, with over 90 miles of fire line completed.”
Incident commanders for Riverside remain concerned about the condition of Highway 224, which has been impacted by debris and rock slides — the result of fire damage combined with the recent heavy rains.
The Clackamas County Fires Incident Management Team is actively working the Dowty, Unger, Wilhoit, and Graves Creek fires and providing initial attack support to the North Cascade District for any new fire starts.
The Wilhoit Fire near Molalla is 532 acres and is 64% contained. The Dowty Fire near Estacada is 1,509 acres and is 100% contained. The Unger Fire near Colton is 497 acres and is 100% contained
Crews are working to extend and reinforce existing containment lines to 250 ft within the fire imprint to ensure clean fire lines and to reduce potential for spread. Extensive mop-up operations are ongoing for all fires.
Due to the passing cold front with increased wind and rain, crews will be patrolling the fire perimeter today to investigate any downed trees and mudflows.
Power has been restored to the community around S. Unger Road and S. Baurer Road in Colton. Firefighter crews on the Unger Fire worked aggressively with contract loggers to remove hazard trees from the area so linemen could repair damaged lines.
The Southwest Area Incident Management Team No. 1 has been managing the Riverside Fire for the past two weeks. The Type 1 Pacific Northwest Team No. 3, led by Incident Commander Noel Livingston, arrived Wednesday night to shadow the team and are to assume command of the Riverside Fire tonight by 6 p.m. Thursday.
The city of Estacada was returned to “normal” (no evacuation status) Wednesday, while the areas of the Dowty Fire and Unger Fire have been returned to level 2 — “get set.”
The area immediately surrounding Riverside Fire remains at level 3 status — “go now.” The Mount Hood National Forest remains closed. For the latest, see the live county evacuation map.
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