Wildfire conditions improve, local crews get respite
The wildfires, with a 36-mile-wide front, continued to burn Friday near the cities of Molalla, Colton and Estacada, but shifting weather and reinforcements bring hope.
The Riverside fire pushed Thursday toward Estacada, Molalla, Colton, Scotts Mills and Lyons, Oregon Department of Forestry Chief of Fire Protection Doug Grafe said during the governor's 1 p.m. press briefing Friday.
The fire stopped short of hitting Colton, stopped about 3 to 4 miles short of hitting Molalla, got right up to and slightly into the community of Scotts Mills and jumped over Estacada, according to Grafe.
"We were in a full-blown urban firefight in Estacada," Grafe said. "We were fortunate — very fortunate — that the winds did not sustain for another day."
As for Canby and Oregon City, the Level 2 evacuation orders are not expected to escalate to Level 3. In fact, Ralph Lucas, spokesperson for the federal incident management team, said they are not considering any additional increases in the ready-set-go protocols.
"No longer are we under those strong east winds," Grafe said. "They're currently in a westerly flow, from the ocean."
The winds had slowed to approximately 5 miles per hour Friday morning, according to a news release from the city of Molalla. Not only that, but humidity levels have risen.
The humidity rose from 10-15% Thursday to 30-40% Friday and is expected to rise to 70-80% Friday evening, according to Canby Mayor Brian Hodson, who attended a Southwest Area Incident Management Team meeting Friday morning.
In addition to the more favorable conditions, federal help has arrived.
A federal type 1 incident management team has taken charge of the Riverside fire, Molalla Fire said in an 11:30 a.m. update. So additional fire resources are deploying around Molalla, Colton and Estacada.
The federal involvement brings immensely more resources and funding to fight these fires, Hodson said.
It also brings with it much-needed reprieve for local fire crews who have been fighting since the blazes broke out in and/or reached the county.
"All local crews were replaced on the front-line fight by conflagration crews," Colton Fire said in an update Friday morning. "Colton Fire was sent to Aurora Fire main station for food, showers and a full night of sleep."
Molalla Fire, too, reported feeling the relief.
Molalla Fire and Colton Fire will now be working together in an immediate response capacity and continuing to protect the communities.
Even amid the positive shift today, officials are warning Clackamas County residents to stay on guard since the Riverside and Beachie Creek fires are still active.
Grafe warned that crews will be fighting some of these fires "till the winter rains fall."
The city of Molalla too warned that while the conditions are looking up, the situation is "fluid" and could change at any moment.
"This is a fire. It is unpredictable," Hodson said, echoing fellow leaders' warnings. "Conditions can and often do change. Stay alert and stay vigilant. As always, stay safe. Stuff can be replaced; you cannot."
There is still no estimate as to when evacuees may be able to return, but the city of Molalla assured residents that emergency personnel are working hard to bring people back to their homes and businesses.
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