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Wildfires cause Gorge air quality to reach hazardous levels
Mt. Adams fire 63 percent contained
SIGNS OF THE TIMES -- Jim Mininick shows some of the defaced signs that he helped erect outside the Centerville Highway right-of-way. The vandalism was reported to the Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office.
October 02, 2012
By BEN MITCHELLThe Cascade Creek fire on Mt. Adams has choked the Trout Lake Valley and the Columbia River Gorge with smoke for close to a month now, but breathing got a whole lot harder last week when yet another wildfire caused air quality to reach hazardous levels in the region.
Called the Milepost 66 fire, the area's newest conflagration started the night of Sept. 25 along I-84, approximately two miles east of Hood River. The flames consumed brush and timber on an extremely steep hillside lying above the Union Pacific railroad tracks and just below the Mark O. Hatfield Trail -- a bike and pedestrian path popular in part due to the historic Mosier Twin Tunnels that lie along its route.
The terrain made fighting the blaze on foot difficult for fire crews and the fire grew overnight to 50 acres. East winds pushed clouds of smoke over Hood River as parked cars got a dusting of ash. Planes and helicopters bombed the fire with water and flame retardant throughout the day Wednesday, although containment initially proved elusive.
The Hood River County Health Department issued a warning last Wednesday that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should limit prolonged physical exertion and stay inside if possible. The Klickitat County Health Department also issued a notice on Sept. 26 that air quality levels were reading hazardous in Trout Lake due to the Cascade Creek fire and that everyone should stay indoors, shut their windows, and limit physical activity. The next day, the KCHD advised that BZ, Husum, Lyle, White Salmon, and Bingen had also reached hazardous air quality levels due to both the Cascade Creek fire and the Milepost 66 fire. Recesses were held inside and school sports practices and games were canceled on the Washington side of the river. On the Oregon side, the Hood River News reported that Hood River Valley High School's Thursday night homecoming celebrations were canceled.
By that evening, the 120 firefighters on scene had fully contained the 70-acre blaze. However, two small fires, both under an acre in size, cropped up south of Mosier earlier that day. Also on Thursday, a one-acre fire started near the High Bridge on the Wind River outside of Carson.
While the fires in the Gorge were contained, the wildfire on Mt. Adams is still not as of press time. Started by a lightning strike the night of Sept. 8, the fire has since consumed 16,857 acres as of Tuesday morning and was listed as 63 percent contained. Containment has been difficult due to both the steep terrain and dense woods of the Mt. Adams Wilderness as well as periodic runs the fire has made with the aid of north winds.
The fire has been moving south and west towards Forest Road 23, but the road was still open as of press time. The entire Mt. Adams Wilderness is still closed, as are numerous roads in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Fire officials are hopeful that the arrival of cooler weather this week will help in firefighting efforts. As of Tuesday morning, the cost of the fire was assessed at $11,964,676.