Officials to residents: Stay out of Level 3 evacuation zones
Clackamas County officials announced today the rolling back of several areas of the fire map from level 2 to level 1 evacuation orders, and many more residents of fire affected areas will be able to return to their homes.
As of Monday, Sept. 14, the areas south of Oregon City and Canby encompassing some portions of Mulino and Monitor will move from Level 2 to Level 1 evacuation. Areas east of Oregon City encompassing portions of Redland, Beavercreek and Highland areas, as well as areas south of the city of Sandy including Eagle Creek, Fir Wood and Wildcat Mountain have been moved from Level 3 to Level 2.
But during a press conference held at the county's public hearing room Monday afternoon, county and federal officials warned local residents that if their home remains under a Level 3 evacuation, they need to stay out of the area to allow the sheriff's office and firefighters to do their jobs properly.
Nearly 400 local, state and federal firefighters are working to contain and snuff out the 134,575-acre Riverside Fire that continue to threaten the cities of Estacada, Colton and Molalla.
And law enforcement officials from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office have ramped up patrol's in affected areas to cut response times down to just three minutes, according to Sheriff Craig Roberts.
With that in mind, both fire and law enforcement are urging residents and others to stay away in order to keep roads clear and remain out of harm's way.
"We've had a tremendous amount of law enforcement resources coming to our county to help us patrol our rural areas and keep our communities safe" Roberts said.
Roberts said that police from Multnomah County, Washington County, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Canby, Oregon City and Molalla are all helping to ramp up patrols in areas where looting is said to have taken place. Roberts also thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Joint Terrorism Task Force for vetting information that local law enforcement has received in response to suspected crimes taking place in the area to check for links to groups or organizations that have been allegedly linked to these crimes.
"I want to clarify for the record: One of our captains indicated a source stated that "antifa" was involved in possible criminal activity. That source has since been determined to be false," Roberts said. "I want to make sure the public is aware, we have an incredible team of detectives that are assessing every single call that comes into our office in the evacuated area. We have no suspects as of this date associated with any groups."
Roberts also said that residents who observe armed groups of "vigilantes" setting up checkpoints in rural areas should call 911 immediately.
"We've had conversations with these individuals that this is not allowed," Roberts said. "If these kinds of activities continue, obviously we'll move forward with any kind of criminal prosecution."
Roberts' message comes as misinformation spread last week and over this past weekend exacerbating rumors that anti-facist and Black Lives Matter were engaging in arson and looting out in affected rural areas. Law enforcement has vehemently denied these rumors and have asked the public to only share information coming from official channels such as the sheriff's office and the county.
Alan Sinclair, incident commander of the federal Southwest Incident Management Team #1, also spoke during Monday's press conference to say that "containment is not reflective of the work currently being done."
"Crews are out there working hard," Sinclair said. "There's a process that takes place before we have the confidence to say that lines are contained. As they're digging control lines, they have to mop up any hot areas around those control lines, then we wait to make sure those lines are going to hold. We don't want to call something contained and then have it not contained. We're very diligent in this process."
According to Capt. Brandon Paxton, Clackamas Fire spokesman, the Wilhoit Fire has burned approximately 576 acres and is 100% "lined."
"When I say lined, we have crews around the fire, but you may still see some smoke or firing burning in the center of the fire. We consider this normal," Paxton said.
Paxton said that the Unger Road Fire is estimated at about 370 acres and 100% lined. The Dowty Road Fire is estimated at about 370 acres and 20% lined.
"With that said, please stay out of the area," Paxton said. "Our crews are working and it's a safety hazard for them, therefore it's a safety hazard for you. We're continuing to fall trees in the area, which poses significant risk to firefighters, as well as anybody in the area. These (fires) are very active and very dynamic."
Nancy Bush, incident commander for Clackamas County, and Dr. Sarah Present, county health officer, also joined fire and law enforcement officials at Monday's press conference to stress the message that the air quality in Clackamas County and around the metro region remains hazardous, especially for health compromised groups such as children, seniors, pregnant women and those with underlying cardiovascular disease issues. The air quality advisory issued by the state's Department of Environmental Quality remains in effect through at least Thursday, Sept. 17.
"It's vital that you stay inside," Present said. "Please check on your family, friends and neighbors. To those who have evacuated their homes and those experiencing homelessness, you should relocate indoors."
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