UPDATE: Evacuation order downgraded for Cherry Grove amid fire
Firefighters continue to work on the scene of an active wildfire south of Henry Hagg Lake in Washington County as of Thursday evening, Sept. 10.
Crews from the Gaston Rural Fire District and other agencies have been battling the Powerline Fire since Tuesday morning, Sept. 8. The fire, along with many others throughout Oregon, popped up following a Labor Day windstorm that brought strong, dry easterly winds to the region for more than 48 hours.
The evacuation orders were adjusted Thursday evening in a positive direction. As of 6 p.m. Thursday, residents of Patton Valley Road and the unincorporated community of Cherry Grove are able to return home, although that area is still considered to be under a Level 2, "Be Set," evacuation order requiring residents to be prepared to leave immediately.
As of midday Thursday, the Powerline Fire is estimated at about 175 acres — up from the previous day's estimate of 50 acres — with approximately 50% containment.
"Crews have made great progress on enforcing the containment lines," Forest Grove Fire & Rescue said in a statement. "This is aided by decreased wind activity."
Forest Grove and Gaston's fire agencies share a chief and command staff. Both are participating in the wildfire response.
Agencies across the state have been battling to bring aggressive wildfires to heel, straining firefighting resources like multi-agency "strike teams" and air tanker support.
Although the winds have died down, conditions remain dry and hot, and agencies warn that northwest Oregon is still facing very high fire risk. Much larger fires are encroaching on populated areas in Clackamas and Tillamook counties as of Thursday, prompting large-scale evacuations.
The Gaston Rural Fire District said late Wednesday that some of the fire agencies that had been assisting with the Powerline Fire have now been redirected to fight those larger fires. Firefighters sent down from Clatsop County on the coast, for instance, were reassigned Wednesday to Clackamas County firefighting efforts.
The fire district did get some extra help late Wednesday afternoon from aircraft. Super Scooper aircraft, which are amphibious seaplane-type planes that can collect water from a body like Hagg Lake by skimming its surface, and helicopters dumped water on the fire.
The Super Scoopers also made water drops on the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak Fire burning to the east, in between Hillsboro and Newberg, before night fell Wednesday. That fire was also estimated at 50% containment by late Wednesday evening.
Super Scooper aircraft returned to the fire at Bald Peak on Thursday, collecting water from Hagg Lake and dumping it on the fire.
No structures have burned in the Powerline Fire, with firefighters on the scene working to keep the fire away from buildings that were evacuated Tuesday.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office, which has provided assistance at the scene, said Thursday morning that structures along Southwest Dundee and Hering roads are still "under direct threat" from the fire as crews work to protect them.
More than 600 residents of the Cherry Grove area were estimated to have received evacuation orders as the fire grew Tuesday.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office said Thursday morning that "fire operations will continue in the area for multiple days."
About 100 firefighters are working the Powerline Fire Thursday, according to the Sheriff's Office, although that number may scale down over the coming days as conditions improve.
Departments that assisted from Clatsop Co are Seaside, Gearhart, Astoria, Nehalem Bay, Knappa-Svensen-Burnside and Olney-Walluski. Again, we thank you greatly. https://t.co/ISMwoeWPn2— Gaston Fire District (@GastonFire) September 10, 2020
Hagg Lake remains closed, and evacuation orders given Tuesday are still in place. It is not safe for residents to return to the area.
Southwest Dundee Road, Hering Road, Cascara Road and Lee Road to Cherry Grove remain under a Level 3, "Go," evacuation order, the highest possible level. Those residents are not allowed to return home at this time.
Patton Valley Road is the only area roadway open to traffic.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office said it will have increased patrols in the area overnight into Friday, Sept. 11.
Evacuees seeking refuge have been encouraged to go to Mountainside High School in Beaverton. That evacuation center is shared with evacuees from the Chehalem Mountain Fire.
Shellie Bailey-Shah, spokesperson for the Beaverton School District, said evacuees can sleep in their vehicles in the parking lot, which is also open to motorhomes and RV campers. Donated food and water is in the cafeteria, which also provides a place to charge phones and electronics.
"We're an evacuation center, not a shelter, but we've had community partners like Holy Trinity Church reach out," Bailey-Shah said Wednesday.
Donations are not needed at this time, the Gaston Rural Fire District said. Both the fire district and county officials thank community members for their support and suggest making donations to the American Red Cross Cascades Region, which is assisting evacuees.
Editor's note: This story has been updated as of 5:55 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, including to note a downgrade in evacuation orders, to add more specific information about the evacuation center at Mountainside High School and to add more images.
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