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Crews were encouraged to evacuate citizens amid concern that Riverside, Beachie Creek fires would merge

COURTESY PHOTO: CLACKAMAS FIRE - Friefighters work to extinguish flames in Clackamas County earlier this month.

A Sept. 10 communication to crews working on the Riverside Fire described the incident as a "historic" and "life risk" event and instructed them to encourage citizens to evacuate as firefighters regrouped to determine the best way to respond to the flames.

With rising concerns that the Riverside Fire would merge with the Beachie Creek Fire on the Willamette National Forest, crews took a tactical pause for several hours on Thursday, Sept. 10, to assess the evolving situation.

As containment of the Riverside Fire increases, fire officials have shared connected community members with additional information about the incident — including the audio from Clackamas County 911 informing crews about the tactical pause.

"One area of the concerns that I would like to directly address is that of Clackamas Fire abandoning Eagle Creek, the city of Estacada and surrounding communities," Clackamas Fire Chief Fred Charlton wrote in a letter on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

The Incident Command Team from the Oregon State Fire Marshall's Office made the decision to take the tactical pause because the potential merging of the two fires was "predicted to cause a plume dominated fire, capable of creating high winds and erratic fire behavior."

"The mission focused solely on evacuating the public out of harm's way of the potential event. The tactical pause allowed our firefighters to move to their safety zones, collect accountability for the crews operating on the fire lines and evaluate the predicted change in conditions," Charlton wrote.

A merging of the Riverside and Beachie Creek fires did not occur, and crews were able to resume active fire response several hours after the tactical pause began.

City of Estacada leaders have clarified that a Facebook post on Sept. 10 stating that "at this point there will be no firefighters protecting the city" was not accurate.

"The firefighters never left Estacada," a followup post on Saturday, Sept. 19, said. "They regrouped at a safe location, which was still within Estacada city limits, and prepared to begin fighting the fire again as soon as it was safe to do so. We are truly grateful for all the firefighters, professional and volunteer, who worked tirelessly to stop the fire and protect life and property in Estacada and the surrounding area. We are also grateful that the predictions of how the fire may have behaved that day did not occur."

As of Monday, Sept. 28, the Riverside Fire is 37% contained, and evacuation orders for the city of Estacada and several surrounding areas have been lifted.

In his Sept. 22 letter, Charlton acknowledged that the Riverside Fire challenged "the Oregon fire service as a whole."

"Moving forward, we will focus on recovery efforts and carrying out our mission, 'to safely protect and preserve life and property,'" Charlton wrote. "It is not lost on our team or fire district family that without the efforts of our citizens the results of these wildfires could have been worse."

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