Blair Best (KGW)
SKAMANIA COUNTY, Wash. (KGW) — Fire crews are on day three of fighting the Tunnel 5 fire in the Columbia River Gorge. As of Tuesday, the fire covered an estimated 533 acres and had destroyed several homes.
The fire is burning across the Columbia from Hood River, near a community called Underwood on the Washington side. Level 3 evacuations remain in effect for parts of Skamania County.
Fire crews have contained 5% of the fire since it broke out on Sunday, focusing most of their efforts along the steep ridges by Tunnel 5. Water tankers attacked the flames Tuesday from the air since the terrain has proven difficult to navigate on foot.
“There’s also a lot of complexity — the railroad corridor, the state highway, power lines … the helicopters and water tankers are dipping from the river,” said Joel Brumm, public information officer for fire crews on the Tunnel 5 fire.
Parts of the river were filled with people like John Bennett, out enjoying the holiday.
“It’s quite the contrast. We just appreciate those guys and what they’re doing,” said Bennett.
Nearly 200 firefighters are working and more are on the way. As of Tuesday, the fire remained at 533 acres and was 5% contained. A roughly 10-mile stretch of Highway 14 is still closed.
“I know they’re continuing to work on the dozer line on the eastern edge of the fire, and on the western edge … again, it’s very steep terrain but we’re scouting to look for possible containment lines there,” said Brumm.
“This is just one of those things where I go, ‘Alright, this is life in the Gorge,’” said Justin Shults.
Officials provided an early estimate that 10 buildings have been destroyed, although they’ve since been more circumspect. Shults — who lives about 5 miles from the blaze — hopes he isn’t next.
“I don’t want to lose my home … I mean, if you live in the gorge one of the key things out here is the greenness of this the beauty, so it’s unfortunate that this is happening,” Shults said.
As of Tuesday, evacuation orders were lifted in nearby Klickitat County. Level 3 zones remained in parts of Skamania County. Fire crews warned that those circumstances could quickly change as they fight to stop the fire from spreading.
“What they’re doing — the work, all that stuff, the danger that they’re facing — it’s much appreciated,” said Shults.
That appreciation was echoed by many out at the gorge. Fire crews said you can do your part by prioritizing fire safety for the hot Fourth of July holiday.
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