MOSIER, Ore. (NewsNation) — Firefighters are trying to contain a wildfire in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge that has quickly grown to nearly 800 acres.
Approximately 900 people have been evacuated as the fire continues to threaten several hundred homes and other structures.
The Mosier Creek Fire started between Hood River and The Dalles Wednesday afternoon, according to the Oregon Forestry Department and local officials. The blaze had burned about 50 acres by Wednesday at 7 p.m., but the state forestry agency reported the fire had spread to roughly 800 acres Thursday morning.
Department spokesperson Christie Shaw said the blaze started as crews were mopping up another fire in the same area along Interstate 84 near Mosier. She said crews contained that fire at about 2 acres.
Winds caused the second fire to spread, and around 6 p.m., the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation orders for people who live on several roads in the Mosier area. Other nearby residents were told to be ready to evacuate if necessary.
Oregon’s Forestry Department described the fire Wednesday night as “aggressive, with running, spotting and torching,” according to a statement on Facebook.
The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, which coordinates with federal and state agencies in Oregon and Washington, has determined the Mosier Creek Fire to be human-caused.
Large air tankers and helicopters are assisting firefighters in the effort to contain the blaze Thursday, the agency said on Twitter.
The incident command team is meeting Thursday morning to coordinate a plan moving forward, NewsNation affiliate KOIN-TV reported.
Gov. Kate Brown announced an emergency declaration Wednesday night to make more resources available for fire crews.
“I ask Oregonians to remember that preventing wildfires is critical this year,” Brown said. “Be cautious and honor all burn bans.”
Rich Tyler with the State Fire Marshal’s office said the fire is mostly devouring grass, oak and pine trees. He said their main concern Thursday afternoon was the weather.
“Sides they are concerned about are the south and east side of the fire, keeping a good eye on that this afternoon,” Tyler said. “Winds are projected to be 8 to 12 miles an hour gusting to 30, relative humidity in the high teens to 20 percent.”
Firefighters are also contending with the ongoing pandemic as they tackle the blaze.
“This is not a normal summer with the normal wildfire — we’ve been here before, we’ve done this before — we haven’t done this with COVID,” Tyler said. “We are going to do everything we can to separate ourselves from the citizens in town yet still be able to do our job and do it in a way where are not spreading COVID.”
Thursday night Tyler sounded a little optimistic.
“Our biggest goal tonight is keeping the fire from jumping the roads down there on the south side of the fire. The fire lines that were put in and working along that roadway have held throughout the day,” he said. “We’re hoping to hold that tonight while the winds continue, and if we can then tomorrow we’ll really have a good start on really getting this fire contained.”
The Red Cross is providing shelter to evacuees. Due to coronavirus concerns, the Red Cross opted to house evacuees in hotels rather than community centers.
“Rather than having a huge gymnasium full of cots, people are coming to the Shilo Inn,” said Darrell Fuller, a Red Cross volunteer from Keizer. “Instead of having a cafeteria full of food, we are providing food for people to take to their rooms.”
Volunteers will continue to provide assistance at Shilo Inn, the agency said on Twitter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.