A brush fire that broke out at the base of steep cliffs along Highway 99E and quickly spread Wednesday afternoon should serve as a warning to how fast such incidents can get out of hand, Canby Fire Chief Jim Davis says.
Fortunately, Canby Fire, Clackamas Fire and numerous other agencies were able to quickly respond to the three-alarm call and bring the blaze under control after it burned only about 10 acres.
“Our automatic aid system worked perfectly,” Davis told The Canby Current. “I credit a lot of the success of this operation to that system working so well. And I can’t say enough about how hard the firefighters were working up there yesterday.”
At its peak, more than 30 fire apparatus and nearly 100 firefighters were on the scene, Davis said. As of Thursday morning, the cause of the blaze was unknown.
“It started down under the transmission lines, close to the highway,” Davis said. “The entire area was on fire and spreading up the hill.”
The Bonneville Power Administration and Portland General Electric shut down power in the area and on South End Road as far as John McLoughlin Elementary.
The response included more than area fire districts. The Oregon Department of Forestry contributed a dozer to cut a line around the fire and a contracted helicopter to do water drops from above, while ODOT assisted in detouring thousands of rush-hour motorists along 99E.
“We know that was difficult, but we so appreciate the patience of motorists on 99E,” Davis said. “Because we really needed to have that access on South End Road for the dozer and firefighters.”
The chopper made it easier to address areas that were difficult to reach due to the steep terrain. Crews remained on the scene throughout the night mopping up hotspots.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office went door to door to ensure all residents in the immediate area had been able to evacuate safely.
All residents within a quarter-mile of the 2300 block of South End Road were ordered to evacuate immediately while another group was in level 2 (“Get set”) status.
The Clackamas County Fairgrounds was designated a staging area for people and livestock, including 12 horses from Extreme Friesian Stables, one of the country’s premier breeders of KFPS-registered royal Friesians.
One of the mares had a three-week-old foal, while another was ready to give birth “any day now,” according to Fairgrounds Executive Director Laurie Bothwell. Chief Davis estimated the value of the animals at more than $3 million.
Two other horses also came in from the evacuation zone, Bothwell said, while a few elderly residents stopped by for a few hours but did not stay overnight.
“We had a lot of people who brought horse trailers and their trucks to help evacuate as needed,” Bothwell told the Current. “The American Red Cross was here just in case. We just didn’t know how big the fire was going to be. We were ready for anything.”
All lanes of 99E were reopened and Canby Area Transit routes fully restored by Thursday morning. No injuries or structural damage were reported.
Davis reminds residents to please abide by the burn ban currently in effect, and cut back vegetation on your property as much as possible.
“Folks should know that the fuels are exceptionally dry right now,” Davis said, referring to combustible material such as shrubs, trees and other vegetation that could feed a fire. “Also be prepared to leave, and please evacuate if you are directed to do so.”
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