THE DALLES, Ore. (AP) — Authorities say the wildfire burning in Oregon’s wind-swept Columbia River Gorge has destroyed a home, damaged two others and is threatening 740 more.
Residents of more than 140 homes have been told to evacuate and nearly 600 households have been put on alert in the community of Rowena near The Dalles. The basalt walls of the gorge east of Portland funnel winds that draw wind surfers from afar, but what’s good for recreation gives firefighters fits.
“You look in one direction, and there’s a fire,” said fire spokesman Mike Waite. “You look the other way and there are people out there wind surfing.”
The blaze covered about 5 square miles by Friday morning with a forecast of low humidity and high winds increasing the danger, according to fire officials.
The fire started Tuesday in brush and forced hundreds of people to flee. Many were allowed to return home Thursday, but the flames continued to spread despite the efforts of more than 400 firefighters.
Waite said it wasn’t clear yet when the fire had gotten to the houses, at the start or as late as Thursday, when the gorge’s famous winds acted up.
Thursday afternoon, gusts pushed the flames back into areas where residents had only hours before been given the OK to return home. A few residents were again evacuated while crews put out fires that had run across containment lines.
Winds Friday afternoon were expected to pick up again, with gusts up to 30 mph, making white caps on the Columbia River as it flows by the fire scene spread out along the southern bank.
Fire crews are digging circles of fire lines around individual houses.
The cause of the fire is listed as under investigation, meaning lightning has been ruled out and investigators are looking at human causes. Waite says the fire teams have pinpointed the fire’s start.