Officials say the Nakia Creek fire is the “number-one priority fire in the nation” because of its potential risk to life and the resources it will take to put it out.
Though evacuation orders have been dialed back for some of the 40,000 people who had to leave their homes this week, “we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Dave Larson, deputy incident commander for the Oregon Department of Forestry, the agency that has taken charge of the firefighting efforts at Larch Mountain in Clark County.
Thanks to cooler temperatures, higher humidity and minimal winds overnight, firefighters have been able to continue creating containment lines on the fire’s edge. The Nakia Creek fire grew by just 73 acres since Tuesday – now measuring about 1,869 acres. It’s about 12% contained.
On the fire’s outskirts, some areas have seen their evacuation order reduced to Level 2 – or “be set to evacuate,” including the small community of Ireland, about 14 miles east of Vancouver. The Livingston and Elkhorn Mountain areas, as well as Sturgeon and Pyramid Rock, are back down to Level 2 as well.
Clearer skies and less fog on Wednesday afternoon mean crews can get aircraft up, including seven helicopters and two water-scooper planes. This will be a “game changer” for containment efforts after a couple days without aerial help, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesperson Natalie Weber said.
More than 500 personnel are on the ground as the Oregon Department of Forestry has brought in more resources – extra equipment, firefighters and aircraft – to help the efforts of local Washington agencies that have been fighting the fire since it ignited Oct. 9.
The operation is focused on maintaining containment lines, particularly on the west perimeter.
Updated evacuation zones can be found on Clark County’s emergency communications site. The county will continue to notify people in affected areas via text and phone calls.
Deputies are patrolling road closures near the Level 3 evacuation areas, said Clark County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chris Skidmore.
Skidmore reminds those who don’t have businesses or homes in the area to keep away.
“It’s not a sightseeing fire,” he said. “Please stay out of those areas and let firefighters do their job.”
Fire investigators continue to seek out the fire’s origins, said Curtis Eavenson, lead investigator for the Nakia Creek fire and assistant fire marshal for the Clark County Fire Department
Eavenson said the tip-line has received “a large number of calls and tremendous help from the public” after fire officials released a video showing a vehicle that’s “of interest” to the investigation.
Investigators are following “every lead,” Eavenson said.
“Anyone with information, no matter how trivial you think it is, call us,” he said.
Eavenson said the investigation so far leads him to believe the fire was started by a pyrotechnic device, though he added he can’t speak to anyone’s “intent.” Eavenson put out a plea to the four individuals depicted in the video to call fire officials. “Let’s talk about what happened,” he said. “Let’s sort this out.”
The video shows a vehicle several hundred yards away from what’s believed to be the fire’s ignition point.
Fire officials are “feeling confident” with rain expected on Friday, Oregon Department of Forestry’s Dave Larson said, despite the challenges it will likely bring.
It will be about finding a “sweet spot” that takes advantage of the rain and keeps firefighters safe amid potential mudslides.
“It really is a catch-22 for us,” Weber said. “We’re aware of that and making sure everyone is taking the proper precautions.”
– Savannah Eadens; [email protected]; 503-221-6651; @savannaheadens