Wildfires sweep across U.S. West, slow push toward Portland

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An Oregon wildfire that has damaged landmarks in the scenic Columbia River Gorge slowed its push toward evacuated houses near the city of Portland on Wednesday, officials said.

As dozens of blazes raged across the U.S. West, the so-called Eagle Creek Fire near Portland merged late on Tuesday with another blaze, named the Indian Creek Fire. The two blazes combined have charred 30,930 acres (12,520 hectares), officials said.

Heavy fire activity was expected to continue through September in much of the West, and through October in parts of the northern Rocky Mountains and California, the National Interagency Fire Center said in a statement, citing hot and dry weather conditions as the primary cause.

The Eagle Creek Fire, burning in the Columbia River Gorge, forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes earlier this week in communities east of Portland, including Warrendale, Dodson and Latourell, and sent ash falling on the city itself.

Some 81 large wildfires covering more than 1.4 million acres (570,000 hectares) were burning in the western part of the United States on Wednesday, a day after federal officials announced that 200 active duty military personnel had been called up to help fight the fires.

“It’s very unusual to have this many fires burning this many acres across such a broad area at this time in September,” said Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center.

It is the first time in two years fire officials have turned to the U.S. Department of Defense for assistance, and it comes at a time when the fire season would normally be winding down in many parts of the West.

The Oregon fire has burned one home and four outbuildings, as well as the historic Oneonta Tunnel, which is popular with hikers, officials said.

Authorities on Wednesday were seeking to determine when it will be safe to lift evacuation orders in communities east of Portland, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

In Northern California, another fire has destroyed 14,480 acres (5,860 hectares) near the town of Helena since it broke out on Aug. 30. It had destroyed 72 homes and 61 outbuildings as of Tuesday, officials said.

That fire forced the evacuation of about 2,000 people last week and they remain barred from their homes, said fire information officer Kelly Wood, adding that the fire was 30 percent contained.

Montana is battling 28 large fires, the most of any state.

One of those, the Caribou Fire northwest of Eureka, has destroyed 10 homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people, said fire information officer Don Simon. It was 10 percent contained, after scorching 17,000 acres (6,900 hectares). (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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