UPDATE: Some residents cleared to return from Chehalem Mountain Fire
A Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue official said late Thursday afternoon, Sept. 10, that after nearly 48 hours of around-the-clock efforts to battle a wildfire in the Chehalem Mountains north of Newberg, firefighters are feeling positive that they're getting it in check.
"We're feeling very optimistic about this," said Public Affairs Chief Cassandra Ulven, shortly after providing a 4:20 p.m. update on progress against the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak Fire.
The fire hasn't grown since Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 9, according to TVF&R — and in fact, it's now estimated at less than half the 2,000 acres originally thought to be burning. The latest, more "data-driven" estimate for the fire is 875 acres, Ulven said.
The fire is about 50% contained.
With the improvement in the situation, some residents who were evacuated are being allowed to return to their homes, although agencies say they should remain on alert in case the situation changes.
Areas now under Level 2, "Be Set," evacuation measures include most of Northeast Hillside and Chehalem drives between Quartermile Lane and North Valley Road in the Newberg area; the Highway 219 corridor that had been on the eastern perimeter of the Level 3 evacuation zone; and the north slope between Southwest Herd Lane and Vanderschuere Road, including most of Neugebauer and Jaquith roads on the Washington County side of the area.
Bald Peak and Mountain Top roads remain under Level 3, "Go," evacuation orders, as does the swath of the Bald Peak area north from there to Herd Lane.
No homes have been destroyed in the fire, TVF&R says, although three barns burned down.
Ulven said TVF&R has taken a conservative approach with evacuations because wildfire behavior is often unpredictable.
"On and off, we've had flareups all over the place with this. That's one of the challenges, because it's in canyons, it's in steep terrain," she said, adding, "It's far easier to keep people away than it is to have to rush them out."
Ulven and Kim Haughn, another TVF&R spokesperson, said firefighters are receiving air support Thursday as they battle the fire. That's been a big help to firefighters on the ground, they noted.
Super Scooper amphibious aircraft took water from Henry Hagg Lake to the west and dropped it on the fire, according to Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, which is fighting a smaller wildfire near Hagg Lake.
Those planes are operated by the Oregon Department of Forestry.
TVF&R also got help Thursday from the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which used a plane to do aerial surveillance of the fire area, leading to the revised estimate of the acreage burned.
Ulven said that the last water drops of the day have been conducted, and resources are shifting east to rural Clackamas County, where two massive wildfires appeared to be linking up near Molalla by Thursday afternoon.
TVF&R is planning to redeploy some of its resources from fighting the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak Fire to Clackamas County, where several cities have been placed under Level 3 orders, including Estacada and Molalla, and several more east of the river are under Level 2 orders.
While the western part of Clackamas County that is west of the Willamette River is under a Level 1 evacuation advisory, "Be Ready," Ulven said TVF&R does not expect those wildfires to threaten that area, most of which falls within its sprawling fire district.
However, fire conditions remain very dangerous everywhere, Ulven added.
"Everyone needs to be vigilant at this time," she said. "Things can dramatically change."
High winds that were whipping up flames and causing rapid wildfire advancement from Monday evening well into Wednesday have subsided. A thick layer of smoke hangs in the air above the Bald Peak area, also covering parts of Beaverton to the northeast.
Power to some areas adjacent to the fire have been shut off to limit the risk of fires being started or fueled by electrical equipment if it fails.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office did warn that people who live in Level 3 areas should not return to their homes because it is unsafe. Evacuation orders will be reassessed as conditions change.
"Please stay away from the area until further notice as crews are actively battling the fire in these areas," the Sheriff's Office said Thursday.
Washington and Yamhill county sheriff's deputies are working to maintain a perimeter.
Members of the community have offered an outpouring of support for people who have been forced to leave their homes.
By Wednesday afternoon, the cafeteria at Mountainside High School in Beaverton was overflowing with donated food, drinks and supplies for a community barbeque. The massive school was designated an evacuation center after nearly 150 people were told to leave their homes amid the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak Fire.
At one point Wednesday, the number of people walking through the doors at Mountainside far outnumbered the evacuees camped out in the school's parking lot.
Editor's note: This story has been updated as of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, with more information, including a change to evacuation orders allowing some residents to return to their homes.
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