Businesses on perimeter of fire roll with punches
It takes a pretty significant weather event or emergency for Phil "Big Bear" DuFresne to close his Country Market & Deli in Springdale.
So far, at least, the 33,000-acre Eagle Creek Fire to the east and the heavy, acrid smoke its produced have not been enough.
"We're open," he said on Wednesday afternoon. "In the 40 years I've been here, I don't think we've ever been closed many times. People appreciate us being here and our services. Many who have (left) their homes have stopped in to eat."
After enduring a couple days of smoky, oppressive air that settled over the area from the fire, Wednesday seemed an improvement.
"It's 90 percent less than yesterday," DuFresne said. "All the ash flying around made it worse. It's pretty calm and clear today. People are kind of settling down."
He also noticed less traffic along Historic Columbia River Highway, which a day or two earlier was clogged with an odd mix of farm owners evacuating horses and the curious taking the winding country road to get a closer glimpse of the fire and its devastation in the Gorge.
"Yesterday it was bumper to bumper," he said. "There was a bazillion horse trailers (and) a lot of tourists."
DuFresne was among the business owners between Troutdale and Corbett who had to make tough decisions about opening and closing as smoke thickened and the fire threatened to move west toward the Sandy River earlier this week.
Closer to Troutdale, iconic, long-running restaurants Tad's Chicken & Dumplings and Shirley's Tippy Canoe both were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tippy Canoe owner Shirley Welton said although she normally closes the day after Labor Day, she took an extra day off to remove a film of ash that descended on her business along the Sandy River.
"After every three-day holiday weekend, we close. That's normal," she noted. "This is not normal. We are full of soot. We're cleaning it up now."
A Sandy River-area resident since 1964, Welton said she was "scared to death" when the wildfire began spreading west on Saturday. She expressed her shock and outrage that the blaze — allegedly started by teenagers setting off smoke bombs and fireworks in Eagle Creek Canyon — could have been prevented.
"We've never, ever been in the position we are now — all because of a firecracker," she said. "Now, come on. I don't know what's wrong with the children, or with the parents. If it's a natural (fire-causing) situation, that's one thing. But this is deliberate."
Alexis Kruger, a cashier at Corbett Country Market, said business has ebbed and flowed more than usual since the Eagle Creek Fire threatened the area. Being located directly across the street from the Corbett Fire District 14 station has lent itself to a fair amount of action in recent days.
"There are points where it's dead and no one comes in, then rushes for food and gas," she said. "The first night there was a rush for gas with a ton of people coming in."
With rain in the forecast and a lessening of the thick smoke evident on Tuesday, Kruger anticipates the market will remain open unless the fire moves west.
"Patrick (Oldwright), our owner, said we'll stay open until there's a Level 3 evacuation order," she said. "We're located next to the fire department, so Patrick said nothing will happen to (the store)."
Amidst all the fear and disruption from the fire, she's constantly reminded of the strong community bonds in the area.
"One of the things that's really nice, working here and living here, is it's easy to relate to people who've had to leave their homes," she said. "A lady came in the other day, crying. I was crying too. It's really hard to leave your house and not know it will be there the next day.
"This is such a tight-knit community."
County deputies, volunteers keep a watch on Corbett
Joe Graziano, Corbett Community Resource Officer and and Multnomah County Sheriff's deputy, said despite social media reports of evacuated residences being looted or "cased," so far there are no police reports on file for theft or burglary. Deputies and Citizen Patrol volunteers, however, continue to patrol the area and watch for suspicious activity.
"We have a lot of resources here doing different things," he said on Wednesday. "We're getting a lot of help doing our day-to-day calls with extra patrols."
Noting that traffic through Springdale-Corbett has thinned since the weekend — Columbia River Highway is closed at Larch Mountain Road — he and fellow deputies are instructing non-local drivers to avoid the area.
"On Monday night just after we cleared the top section of Larch Mountain Road, we saw people heading up and asked where they came from," Graziano said. "We turned them around. We're contacting people to see what their business is."
Otherwise, he and fellow deputies and safety personnel face challenges with longer than usual shifts while breathing poor-quality air.
"It's pretty intense," he said. "Some of us are up to a full 24 hours. I was right at the end of a shift but ended up staying up all night. There were no (smoke) masks at the time. We're trying to get those things as fast as we can."