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Growing Estacada fire blankets town with smoke, puts residents on edge


Rick Bella | By Rick Bella | rbella@oregonian.comThe Oregonian
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on September 15, 2014 at 11:48 AM, updated September 15, 2014 at 1:00 PM

ESTACADA -- While fire crews attack a nasty wildfire south of the city, Estacada residents are doing their best to fight off heavy, irritating smoke.

Schoolchildren are being kept indoors today, even over recess. Marla Stephenson, Estacada School District superintendent, informed the schools after surveying the conditions and weighing potential health risks. However, all school buses are running their regular routes -- except for the Route 14 bus, which will go as far as fire officials allow, and then stop at a Red Cross shelter to pick up and drop off students.

Meanwhile, Estacada Fire District officials are contacting nursing homes, assisted living facilities and residents with known respiratory difficulties.

"We're advising them to stay inside," said Connie Redmond, fire district spokeswoman. "The smoke seemed to be clearing just a little bit, but it may come back, especially as the fire is growing."

The 36 Pit Fire, burning about 10 miles south of Estacada, has jumped the Clackamas River and Oregon 224. An aerial survey of the fire, using infrared cameras, revealed the fire had grown to more than 2,358 acres.

A firefighting task force from Washington County, including Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, joined local firefighters, hot shot crews and U.S. Forest Service personnel Sunday. The Lake Oswego Fire Department and fire districts from Marion County, Silverton, Molalla, Clackamas 1, Sandy and Canby all have sent crews staffing brush rigs and water tenders.

The American Red Cross shelter, set up at the Estacada First Baptist Church north of the city, was used by 21 people overnight, said Paula Negele, Red Cross spokeswoman. She said some people who had been evacuated from the Lazy Bend Campground, Work Center Silver Fox RV Park and Ladee Flats off-highway vehicle area, spent the night in their vehicles after parking at the church lot.

"We're not sure how long the shelter will be operating yet," Negele said. "But our services will be there as long as they are needed."

Gary McQueen, deputy Estacada fire chief, said no additional evacuations were expected Monday. He said six households along South Hillockburn Road were placed on alert, advised that an evacuation may be ordered if fire conditions change.

Some residents already are getting prepared to evacuate.

"We just dropped our grandkids off at school," said Mike Whitten, who has lived on Hillockburn Road with his wife, Judy, for more than 40 years. "We will get what little possessions we think we will need and get ready."

Brad Hilliard, a State Farm Insurance spokesman, suggested that families should assemble "evacuation kits."

"Grab clothes, food,water, essential documents, medications and irreplaceable items," Hilliard said. "Have them near the door ready to go in case you only have a few minutes to evacuate your home."

Hilliard also suggested shooting a photo or video inventory of items that would be left behind in case of evacuation.

Traffic on a 5-mile stretch of Oregon 224 remains interrupted between Mileposts 31 and 36.
Eastbound traffic is stopped at Faraday Road. A detour for westbound traffic is diverting vehicles onto Forest Service Road 57 to Forest Service Road 42, and on to U.S. 26.

Officials said fire updates are available by calling 503-668-1719 or by visiting the InciWeb website.

The public is being cautioned against calling 911, except in actual emergencies.
Additional updates are available on a Facebook page set up to follow the fire and on the Estacada Fire District website.

-- Rick Bella and Stuart Tomlinson