Fire near Hood River contained but thick smoke remains

Fire near Hood River contained but thick smoke remains
Photo of the MP66 Fire courtesy of Richard Porter

NEAR HOOD RIVER, Ore. - Fire crews battling a stubborn and smoky wildfire near Hood River managed to get containment lines all the way around the fire on Thursday afternoon, firefighters said.

Erin Black with the Forest Service said calmer than normal winds and little overnight growth helped them contain the 70 acre fire.

100 firefighters from multiple agencies are on the ground, along with two firefighting helicopters.

Despite the containment, fire officials said thick smoke will continue to be a problem for the Hood River area for the next few days.

"There's just smoke everywhere. It smells terrible," said Casey Aschauer in Hood River. "People are getting headaches in the office, which started with the Stevens Fire and never really stopped."

Smoke from the fire reduced visibility to just a few blocks in Hood River on Thursday morning.

Warm temperatures and very dry conditions are expected for at least the next several days according to KATU Meteorologist Rhonda Shelby. Except for a quick hit of rain one day weeks ago, the area has had little or no rainfall for over two months now.

However, winds in the typically breezy Columbia River Gorge have remained light while crews battle the blaze, which is burning in steep and rugged terrain.

The fire jumped over Highway 30 early Wednesday morning and headed for more standing timber on private land near the Mark Hatfield Trail but no structures were threatened, Forest Service officials said. The trail is closed while crews operate in the area.

The fire was discovered at about 8 p.m. Tuesday and so far, firefighters have not said how it may have started. It's still not clear how the fire started.

Impact on tourism

The fire is very close to Hood River, which is a tourist hot spot on the final few nice weekends of the season. But for people playing on the river, sipping beer at breweries or vising nearby wineries, the smoke is a constant presence.

Anne Lerch and her husband run a vineyard outside of town and keep close track of fires this time of year.

"I had a lot of people from out of state who maybe flew in and didn't know about the fire and were surprised to see so much smoke," Lerch said. "A few people mentioned they probably wouldn't spend the night here as a result, which is too bad."

The Hood River Hotel in downtown hasn't heard about any cancellations, but they have fielded plenty of calls.

"A lot of people call and say 'how bad is the smoke?'" said Becky Goss with the hotel. "Giving them an honest answer: it's pretty thick."

The fire is burning near Interstate 84 and a rail line but vehicle and train traffic have been largely unaffected. Still, officials want to warn drivers not to be distracted by firefighting operations while driving.

Special thanks to photographer Richard Porter for his photos of the Milepost 66 fire.

KATU reporters Erica Nochlin and Valerie Hurst contributed to this report