The flames near the city of The Dalles started Tuesday and expanded Wednesday to more than 56 square miles (145 kilometers) – fueled by low humidity, high temperatures and winds gusting up to 30 mph (48 kph).
The fire spread into vast fields of wheat while farmers did their best to salvage their crops in the middle of the harvest season. One person was found dead near a burned-out tractor. It is believed he was trying to create a fire lie with his tractor. The person’s identity has not been released, reports ABC News.
The fire is burning in a rural area along the Columbia River Gorge about 85 miles (137 kilometers) east of Portland. Firefighters have crept into fields with water trucks in an attempt to douse the leading edges of the flames. According to KATU News, fire officials say the fire is now pushing both northeast and southeast.
Dozens of households have been forced to evacuate and at least one home has been destroyed. The fire has also closed 67 miles of Highway 97 from Biggs Junction to the junction with Highway 197.
Pacific Northwest fire season not looking good
To get to the point, authorities are expecting that due to drought-like conditions in many areas, the fire season this year will be worse than normal, reports the Associated Press.
Robin DeMario, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center says, “These light fuels go up very quickly. The grassy stalks are very dry, they have lost the moisture in those stalks, and so if a fire start begins, we call it ‘flashy fuels’ because it burns very fast and very hot.”
And to make matters worse, the Columbia Gorge, which separates Washington and Oregon is still recovering from a blaze that last year burned 75 square miles (194 square kilometers) of beautiful mountain scenery that included the western end that’s home to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
— KATU News (@KATUNews) July 19, 2018
This area sees over 3 million tourists a year and holds North America’s largest concentration of waterfalls. Further east, the river moves into grasslands and flat open vistas dotted with vast wheat fields. This is where the fire is burning.
In Washington, a small wildfire near Spokane Valley prompted the evacuation of 700 homes. Several homes did catch fire and at least one has been destroyed, Spokane Valley Fire Department spokeswoman Melanie Rose said.
And in California, the huge wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park is keeping a major route into the park shutdown. Over 1,800 firefighters are battling the blaze that started Friday and now spans 27 square miles (70 square kilometers), the U.S. Forest Service said.