A pair of 5-acre fires threatened to explode out of control Friday evening, Sept. 9, in the area of Henry Hagg Lake, until a collaboration of local fire and rescue departments stopped the blazes from spreading.
The Gaston Fire District's coverage area includes the lake, located in Scoggins Valley Park northwest of town. Battalion Chief Lorne Vaught said the fire district responded to a fire across the lake from Boat Ramp C at about 6 p.m. Friday, before another fire by the lake was reported about 20 minutes later.
The first fire was contained between the lake and the road, while the second was able to jump the road.
A few local residents along Stepien Road were asked to evacuate, although the evacuation orders were lifted within hours.
"We have to assume it had something to do with a human-caused issue. We can't say for sure, but it could be anything from a cigarette to a trailer chain being dragged and throwing sparks," Vaught said of the cause of the fire. "We had no power up there, so it had to be some sort of human-caused negligence."
Power was deliberately cut to the Gaston area by regional provider Portland General Electric, which considers it one of its so-called public safety power shutoff areas. In these mostly rugged, mostly rural areas, PGE has set a policy — since 2020's devastating fire season, when several fires were blamed on electrical equipment — of turning off the power and de-electrifying its power lines and other equipment when weather conditions present an exceptionally high risk of fires starting and spreading.
Vaught said the first fire near Hagg Lake was mostly a grass fire. It was "knocked down" within half an hour and then monitored for a few more hours, he said.
The second was more complicated and torched a few trees, and the scene was not cleared until after 11 p.m. Friday. Crews stayed on the scene overnight to ensure nothing sparked back up.
In addition to Gaston, firefighters from Forest Grove, Cornelius, Yamhill, Hillsboro and Tualatin Valley, as well as the Oregon Department of Forestry responded to Hagg Lake.
"It was pretty dang close to being a big deal," Forest Grove Fire & Rescue spokesperson Matt Johnston said of the second fire.
Local firefighters were on high alert over the weekend under dry, hot and windy conditions. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue bumped up its staffing to make additional brush rigs — more maneuverable and better-equipped than fire engines to tackle off-road fires — available in case wildfires broke out.
Amid the public safety power shutoffs in Gaston, Banks and elsewhere, Vaught said the Gaston Fire District helped a handful of residents who could not relocate with generators for necessary medical devices.
Forest Grove Light & Power customers did not experience any precautionary or forced outages.
While rain fell around Portland Monday morning, Sept. 12, for the first time in months, fire season is still active for at least a few weeks.
"We are starting to come into the transition period. September and October is when we go from being very dry to potentially pretty wet," said John Bumgardner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland. "Looking ahead eight days or so, it looks like we have a system that could bring rain, but we don't think it's likely that it would be enough to have a huge impact on fires."
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