Wildfires in Clackamas County have destroyed 22 houses and structures since Sunday night and are threatening more than 600 other houses and structures as thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes.
The entire county is under some level of evacuation warning with about half the county, including Estacada and parts of Molalla, under a Level 3 evacuation order, meaning residents are asked to leave immediately. Residents can look up their addresses online to determine the evacuation level in their area.
There have been no civilian injuries or fatalities resulting from the fires in Clackamas County, according to fire officials. A firefighter suffered a minor injury while responding to the fires Tuesday night.
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The county is focused on four major wildfires, said Clackamas Fire District No. 1 Chief Fred Charlton: the Riverside fire, Dowty fire, Unger Road fire and Wilhoit fire. Charlton said a separate 10-acre brush fire off Oregon 213 and Spangler Road that started Tuesday night was mostly contained.
The Riverside fire, which started near the Riverside campground along the Clackamas River, had grown to more than 40,000 acres by Wednesday afternoon after moving about 17 miles Tuesday. The three other major fires, along with the Spangler Road fire, had burned through a combined 2,500 acres as of Wednesday morning, Charlton said.
At least 11 homes had been destroyed by the fires by Wednesday afternoon. The fires have destroyed and threatened other structures within the agricultural communities, including barns, storage facilities and other outbuildings.
Weather conditions and a lack of resources have made fighting the fires particularly challenging, Charlton said. He couldn’t estimate yet when any of the four fires would be even partially contained.
“The temperatures are starting to increase today, the winds are starting to pick up,” he said Wednesday. “That’s a bad sign for trying to contain and suppress wildfires.”
Nancy Bush, director of disaster management for Clackamas County, said Wednesday morning that the county has reached 16,000 contacts regarding evacuations. She said it’s possible that some of the people reached were duplicates and she couldn’t say for sure how many people had been asked to evacuate or had evacuated.
By Wednesday afternoon, additional residents were being asked to leave their homes as mandatory evacuations expanded to Estacada due to the Riverside fire. Deputies from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office were going door-to-door to alert people. The Level 3 evacuation area was extended west of Colton and north past Estacada Wednesday night.
The county has set up an evacuation check-in site at Clackamas Community College. Limited shelter space was also being provided at Clackamas Community College and Oregon City High School. The Oregon Conference Headquarters of Seventh-day Adventists, Clackamas Town Center and the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge No. 142 were all accepting recreational vehicles. The Clackamas County Fairgrounds had been accepting displaced livestock, but the county announced Wednesday afternoon that the grounds were full.
“The last thing we want is a spike in COVID-19 cases because of the sheltering that we’re doing,” Bush said. “We’re making every effort to make sure the shelters have PPE and that social distancing is maintained at the shelters.”
Kaitlynn Byrne, 21 and her girlfriend, Mel Windon, 21, were forced to evacuate Tuesday afternoon with the Wilhoit fire raging just a mile away from the Molalla home where they live with Byrne’s parents, grandfather and aunt. Byrne said the fire has since spread through her family’s neighborhood and she doesn’t know whether their house made it through.
Byrne grabbed photos, as well as a painting of her beloved childhood dog that was painted by her grandmother, before leaving the house, but realized later that she had left her mother’s wedding dress behind. She had hoped to incorporate the dress into her own wedding.
“There’s a lot of heartbreak going on right now and a lot of emotions,” Byrne said. “But we’re just thankful overall that everybody is safe, all of our family. Knowing everybody is safe is a relief, even if we are sad and devastated by everything that has happened.”
The sky above Blake House’s Colton home was already dark red when fire officials knocked on his door Tuesday and told him, his wife and three children that they had to evacuate. Another four family members who live in a camper on House’s property were forced to evacuate as well.
The entire family has been staying at the shelter at Clackamas Community College. Even though the college has beds set up for evacuees, House slept in his truck Tuesday night to be with his dog and four cats.
House battled a traffic jam to drive back to his home in Colton on Wednesday morning and pick up some valuables and clothes. He isn’t sure when he will be allowed to go back to his house again and remains…