Human-caused Columbia River Gorge fire prompts evacuations

MOSIER, Ore. (AP) — A wildfire burning in the scenic Columbia River Gorge has grown to more than 800 acres and is threatening hundreds of homes.

The fire broke out Wednesday afternoon in the community of Mosier, Oregon, which is between Hood River and The Dalles along Interstate 84. It had burned 791 acres (320 hectares) as of Thursday morning.

On Thursday afternoon, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said about 900 people were being evacuated from more than 400 homes, KGW-TV reported. The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations along several roads in Mosier. A hotel in The Dalles is available as a shelter.

Rich Tyler, a spokesman for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that four structures had burned, but he didn't know if they were homes. Dubbed the Mosier Creek fire, it’s believed to be human-caused, according to authorities.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act, making more state resources available to fire crews. The state fire marshal’s office assumed command Thursday.

Charles Keller told KGW-TV he’s lived in Mosier a long time and this is the first time he’s had to evacuate.

“It was chaotic,” Keller said. “The last thing you want to hear is a Level 3 (evacuation notice). It’s a scary deal."

FEMA officials said Thursday the agency had authorized the use of federal money to help with firefighting costs.

Christie Shaw, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said the fire started as crews were mopping up another blaze in the same area. She said winds caused the Mosier Creek fire to spread.

Ground, helicopter and air tanker crews are working the blaze, the agency said.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality advisory Thursday for The Dalles, Mosier and Hood River area because of smoke from the fire. The agency expects the air quality advisory to last until at least Saturday.