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Clackamas County crews nearing completion of their first official containment lines as others mop up smaller blazes

PMG PHOTO: SAM STITES - ALAN SINCLAIR Officials from Clackamas County and the federal government announced no new rollbacks Tuesday, Sept. 15, of evacuation orders in areas affected by the several wildfires that continue to burn in the area. But they did reaffirm that more than 500 firefighters using hand tools, fire engines and bulldozers remain hard at work creating gaps in vegetation and fire lines to contain the 135,000-acre Riverside Fire burning near the Clackamas River just south of Estacada and east of Molalla.

According to Alan Sinclair, commander of the federal Southwest Incident Management Team No. 1, the current focus for fire crews is creating containment lines around populated areas so they can allow local residents to return home when it's appropriate.

"We build the lines, and then we have to patrol the lines, looking for sources of heat that we then put out," Sinclair said. "When we're sure those containment lines will hold against any foreseen future conditions, including winds, we'll start calling those contained."

Sinclair said that those paying attention to the status of this fire should begin to see containment reported today.

"I wouldn't expect large numbers because of the size of the fire and amount of work that will need to be done," he said.

Also giving an update Tuesday was Capt. Brandon Paxton, public information officer for Clackamas Fire Dist. No. 1. According to Paxton, fire crews have seen moderate progress in lining and containing the four other fires that burn in areas nearby the Riverside Fire.

Paxton reported that the Wilhoit Fire south of Molalla near Scotts Mills is now estimated at 591 acres, but is 100% lined.

The Unger Road Fire near Colton is estimated at 496 and 100% lined.

The Graves Road Fire near Mulino is estimated at 44 acres and 100% lined.

The Dowty Road Fire near Eagle Creek is estimated at 1,452 acres and 30% lined.

Paxton added that there are still more than 250 firefighters working two operational shifts to ensure these communities are safe and mop up any hotspots.

Clackamas County Incident Commander Nancy Bush also gave remarks asking local residents again to not return to their homes unless they've been explicitly instructed that it is now safe. She warned those who have received the greenlight to return home to be vigilant as they make their way back into areas that have seen damage.

"Check for hot embers outside of your home, in the rain gutters and piles of wood compost or shavings on the roof, under overhangs and all of the parts of your property, including any of your outbuildings," Bush said. "Check for the smell of gas. Turn off power until you have completed this inspection. And if you smell gas, you need to call the gas company, immediately."

Christine Hollenbeck of the Clackamas River Water Providers also suggested some tips to local residents who are returning to their homes to reduce non-essential water use. Those include turning off irrigation systems, winterizing them and only using hand-watering for plants at this time; fixing any leaks that might exist on your property; taking shorter showers; and cleaning ash and debris from patios and walkways using a broom instead of a hose.

Lastly, Crisis Program Supervisor Dr. Jeffrey Anderson with the county's behavioral health division spoke about ways that local residents dealing with uncertainty, as well as battling depression and anxiety brought on by these tough times can seek help through the county's resources.

"We know that these are trying times and we want you to know, we're here for you, and you're not alone," Anderson said. "We're here to help you take care of yourself, your family, and your community. Clackamas County Behavioral Health staff are working to ensure that you receive the resources and connections that you need to help with your mental health."

County mental health resources include GoTeams — teams of mental health professionals who can meet you where you are, whether it's your home or residential facility — as well as the urgent mental health clinic located in the Ross Center near Clackamas Town Center at 11211 S.E. 82nd Ave., Suite O. The clinic is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by phone at 503-722-6200. The county's 24-hour crisis support line is also open at 503-655-8585.

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