Eagle Creek fire merges with Indian Creek fire, creating 32,000-acre inferno

Thick smoke billows from the Eagle Creek Fire burning in the Columbia River Gorge Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. (Photo: Chopper 2/KATU)

The Eagle Creek wildfire burning in the Columbia River Gorge for the fourth day was measured at 32,000 acres Wednesday and had merged with the Indian Creek fire, fire officials said.

They determined the size of the fire by using an infrared camera from a plane.

While evacuations were still in effect for hundreds of people, there was good news. Officials said firefighters Tuesday were successful in keeping the fire growth to a minimum.


They also reported that even with trees burning nearby and with falling embers, they had saved the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, built in 1925, by keeping it wet during a firestorm. Firefighters were able to protect other structures in the path of the blaze as well.

There was also good news on the weather front. Winds that had whipped the blaze into an inferno overnight Monday slackened and were expected to remain light.

But the fire has taken its toll. One small residential structure was destroyed as well as four outbuildings, officials said.

The smoke was so thick Tuesday night in the Gorge, that even the red glow from the flames couldn’t pierce it, leaving those on the Washington side at North Bonneville unable to see the fire. Ash, however, continued to fall in the area.

Damon Simmons, with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office, has worked on wildfires across the state and said he’s never seen a wildfire like this one.

“A fire to move this fast in this kind of terrain – you might see it in grasses, things like that, but to move this fast in trees is pretty unusual,” he said.

Meaning it’s been unprecedented growth. The fire traveled 13 miles in just 16 hours Monday into Tuesday. Flames leaped 30 feet in the air.

Simmons said the fire showered embers and skipped ridges, burning into the Bull Run watershed and near Portland’s main source of drinking water. Fire officials said defending the watershed will remain one of their top priorities.

The fire also jumped the mighty Columbia River and started a 30-acre fire on Archer Mountain in the state of Washington. Several communities there remained under evacuation orders.

Simmons said he expects the winds to die down over the night and push east.

“We may get a shift in the winds, and it may go back the other way, which presents its own problems, as you can imagine,” he said. “It could cause some of the fire to back into itself, but it could also push it back in a direction that we don’t want it to go.”

As of about 11 p.m. Tuesday winds were calm.

“Between now and 3 o’clock in the morning, we’ll see that wind shift continue across the area,” said KATU Meteorologist Dave Salesky, adding that air quality would continue to improve in the Portland area.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross said at least 70 people, along with about 25 of their pets, checked into its shelter at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.

Timothy Stopka, who was camping at Larch Mountain when he heard about the evacuation, said he barely made it out.

“It's about the scariest thing I've been through, I'll tell ya,” he said. “The smoke, you're getting hit by hot ash, I've never seen a wildfire like this in all my days.”

He said he almost lost everything.

Gov. Kate Brown deployed members of the National Guard to help with the fire.

The fire started at the Eagle Creek Trail Saturday afternoon and police said was sparked by a 15-year-old boy from Vancouver, Washington throwing fireworks. Oregon State Police are investigating. More than 660 personnel are fighting the fire, including nine helicopters.

The Indian Creek fire started July 4. Its cause is unknown.

Get More Information/Alerts:

You can sign up to receive emergency alerts from Multnomah County by going to this link and entering your email address in the box near the top of the page.

If you have received an evacuation notice or are under an evacuation order or alert, you may call the county at 503-823-2323. They are there to help you with questions and/or concerns.

For general information about the fire, you may call 211.

Watch 11 p.m. Newscast Coverage of the Fire:

Correction: A previous version stated that a small home was lost; however, it is unclear at this time what kind of residential structure burned.

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