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Substation Fire grows to 70,000 acres, now 15 percent contained

Firefighters work to put out flames from the Substation Fire. (KATU Photo)

MORO, Ore. (KATU) – Strong winds caused the Substation Fire to grow significantly Thursday night and Friday morning.

The fire is now 70,421 acres. Thursday evening, it was 50,000 acres. The fire is considered the nation’s No. 1 wildfire priority.

Despite the growth, fire officials say the fire is now 15 percent contained.

Firefighters are prepared for strong winds and hot weather to continue through the weekend.

All areas east of 97 and the towns of Moro, Grass Valley, Briggs Junction and Kent have been reduced to Level 2 (Get Set) since Thursday evening. On Friday afternoon, fire officials lifted the evacuation orders for the Lower Deschutes, which allows access to Heritage Landing, but officials urged people to use caution. Helicopters are still using the river to fill buckets of water and there are other dangers such as stump holes, rolling material and trees that may come down because they were weakened by fire.

Any residents whose properties are still in a Level 3 evacuation area can call the Substation Fire information line at (503) 597-8076 to inquire about the status of their homes. Fire officials do not know how many structures have burned in the fire.

The Wasco County Sheriff's Office is asking residents not to clean up their properties that were burned by the fire. Investigators want to assess the damage by speaking to residents and by taking photographs. The sheriff's office is asking that estimated financial losses be reported as well.

The Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services said Friday that almost half of the crop in Wasco County is estimated to have been destroyed by the fire. It encouraged farmers to contact their crop insurance agent as soon as possible. The federal crop insurance program requires claims to be filed within 72 hours of a loss.

"If you have crop damage as a result of the fire, do not destroy the crop until the insurance company confirms it is ok to do so," Oregon state officials said in a news release.

Locals say this is the worst fire behavior they've ever seen.

As of Friday morning, 278 personnel were working the lines of the fire that has killed one person, destroyed structures and burned through crops, grass and forestland. Personnel are working 24 hours a day to strengthen containment lines.

According to the Incident Command Post in Moro, firefighters made progress on all sides of the fire Thursday.

However, there are still two areas of concern. The first is on the north end of the fire where the Deschutes River meets the Columbia River. The second is farther south in the Deschutes River Canyon.

Their goal Friday is to keep the fire within the perimeter it's already burned. Firefighters are searching for hot spots that could flare up or send sparks over containment lines.

Crews will also begin shifting from firefighting to evaluating and assessing the fire damage to structures.

There is a temporary flight restriction in place within the fire’s perimeter. That means any aircraft that is not helping suppress the fire is not allowed to fly through the air in that area.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Wasco County Sheriff Lane McGill said he couldn’t divulge any information about the criminal investigation for fear of compromising it. But the sheriff's office said it was "incendiary in nature." State police have set up a tip line for anyone who knows anything about how the fire started. That number is 800-452-7888.

The sheriff’s office Thursday also identified the man who died in the fire. John Ruby, 64, a longtime resident of Wasco County, was working to protect his neighbor’s property with a tractor when he succumbed to the fire.

The Mid-Columbia Center for Living has a hotline available for anyone who needs someone to talk with. That number is 1-888-877-9147.

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