On Monday night, Aug. 17, near Pine Grove in Hood River County, a four-helicopter rotation came to the rescue when fire broke out just east of Old Dalles Road.
The fire burned timber starting around 6 p.m. off Oak Ridge Road, in the Pine Grove area.
The fire was kept to about 1.5 acres (smaller than a published post) thanks to rapid action by air and ground responders, and is contained, Chief Greg Borton of Wy’East Fire District said Aug. 18 at 9:30 a.m. No structures were damaged, though flames did come close to one outbuilding.
“If not for the aerial attack getting to it when it did, the fire would have been much bigger,” Borton said. “They had water on it before we were there on the ground,” he said. On Friday, Aug. 21, the fire was fully contained and firefighters remained on patrol given that hot spots were found Aug. 18-19.
At about 7:30 p.m. Aug. 17 after the fire line was in place and most of the flames had been knocked down, a pair of tall firs erupted in flame in the middle of the fire zone. A helicopter was hovering nearby as if expecting the outburst, and doused the 50-foot column of flame. A second helicopter was circling nearby, looking for the best target, and doused the trees with its load.
The “saving grace,” according to Borton, was that helicopters were already stationed nearby, at the Mosier Creek Fire response. In addition, ODF immediately dispatched an engine and ground crew along with fire managers.
“We were at the house and lost power. I started texting other friends in the neighborhood and looked out the window and there were the flames,” said Bonnie Taylor, whose home is near the top of the ridge. She said the recent fires just to the south — Fir Mountain — and east — Mosier Creek — earlier this month helped her and her husband, Sam, remember what to do in case of fire and the possibility of evacuation.
“We just started thinking, we gotta have a list and know what we’re grabbing,” she said. “It was just, ‘Let’s be prepared.’”
All Hood River County fire agencies responded, along with Mosier Fire Department. Gorge Scenic Area and Oregon Department Forest crews. Hood River County Sheriff was on scene along with Oregon State Police, Pacific Power and private forestry crews.
“We had a really good turnout,” Borton said.
The blaze burned in deciduous and coniferous stands of trees and some open scrub-land, but crews were able to get fire lines around it before it could spread to nearby structures.
“We heard a ‘pow’ that sounded like a transformer blowing, The power went off momentarily and then it came back on,” said Doug Massengill, whose home lay 200 yards down the hill from where helicopters were dumping water.
The fire is under investigation, according to Borton. A State Fire Marshal’s office investigator was expected as early as the weekend to visit the scene, he said. Officials noted that while power lines were down in the fire area, it is too soon to know if the electrical issue was the cause of, or caused by, the fire.
Crews from area agencies, with help from four helicopters pouring water on the fire, got a fire line around the blaze by around 7:30 p.m., according to Oregon Department of Forestry’s Kyle Nairns. The helicopters were already in the area fighting the Mosier Creek Fire, according to Nairns.
Pacific Power dispatched several vehicles to the area, and private firefighting crews were also called in. Hood River County Sheriff’s Office were stationed at Old Dalles and Hidden Oaks to limit non-essential vehicle access.