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U.S. Coast Guard says safety conditions have improved but ODOT says I-84 and Historic Columbia River Highway are still blocked

U.S. COAST GUARD - A U.S. Coast Guard vesselThe U.S. Coast Guard has announced that it is opening traffic in the Columbia River safety zone at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

But the Oregon Department of Transportation says I-84 and the Historic Columbia River Highway will remain closed.

The safety zone in the river was established due to the impact of the Eagle Creek Fire. The Coast Guard says it will continue working with Eagle Creek Fire Incident Command and respond if needed.

The Eagle Creek Fire started on Sept. 2 near Cascade Locks at the Columbia River Gorge. The fire has burned over 33,000 acres and is currently 7% contained.

According to ODOT, the two roadways through the gorge will remain closed because of the fires, and fallen trees and rocks on both of them.

ODOT says eastbound I-84 will remain closed at least another week—the minimum time required to complete rock removal. Transportation officials are working with those fighting the fires to determine when the westbound lanes can reopen.

There is no schedule for when the historic highway can reopen. Rocks and trees continue to fall, ODOT is working to keep it available for firefighters, but the highway is not safe for travel.

The following challenges remain:

Dangerous trees. ODOT has removed about 2,000 trees that were in danger of falling onto I-84 with about 1,500 remaining to be removed. Tree removal efforts should be finished by early in the coming week.

Rockfalls. The biggest impediment to re-opening the highway is the threat of falling rocks, most of them around the Toothrock Tunnel. The work is slow in steep, difficult terrain extending high up onto the hillside.

Bridges. ODOT inspected 70 bridges and culverts along I-84 and found minimal damage.

Tunnel damage. An inspection of the 1936 Toothrock Tunnel on I-84 showed minimal rock damage to portals. The liner inside the Oneonta Tunnel on the HCRH completely burned and engineers found unstable rock slopes at each end.

Slide threats. In the weeks ahead, ODOT will be assessing the danger of winter slides in areas where the underbrush has burned away.

The Eagle Creek Fire started on Sept. 2 near Cascade Locks at the Columbia River Gorge. It has burned over 33,000 acres and is currently 7 percent contained.

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.

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