More evacuations ordered in Columbia Gorge fire

More evacuations ordered in Columbia Gorge fire »Play Video
Jet Ranger 2 shows the flames of a 13-square mile wildfire burning near The Dalles on Wednesday. The wildfire has destroyed four homes and is only 15 percent contained.

THE DALLES, Ore. (AP) — Strengthening winds on a wildfire in the Columbia Gorge on Thursday prompted fire bosses to order more scattered rural homes evacuated in rugged canyonlands on the northern flank of Mount Hood.

The Blackburn fire, part of the Government Flat complex burning 10 miles southwest of The Dalles, remained at 15 percent containment after growing to 17 square miles and burning a fourth house on Wednesday.

The Oregon Department of Forestry said residents of an unknown number of homes along Ketchum Road and Vensel Road were given the word to leave shortly after noon on Thursday.

Spokeswoman Mindy Sherieb said with winds picking up in the afternoon, fire bosses wanted to give people plenty of time to leave.

Residents of homes along other roads threading between the canyons were told to be ready to go.

Sherieb said firefighters held the lines on the north, south and east flanks, but strong afternoon winds were pushing the fire forward on the west side, where it was moving into the Mount Hood National Forest. Winds were expected to gust to 25 mph, fanning the fire front to the point where heat from the fire creates strong updrafts, forcing firefighters to retreat.

"It's going to challenge and test some of the lines we've had in for a while, and it will challenge some of the lines we just put in," she said.

Meanwhile, thunderstorms moved into southwestern Oregon Thursday morning, bringing heavy rain and lightning. Five new fires were reported from dry lighting on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, with the biggest about 20 acres. More lightning was forecast through Friday, said forest spokeswoman Virginia Gibbons.

Nine large fires were burning uncontained across 288 square miles in Oregon, from the Big Sheep 2 fire outside Joseph in the northeastern corner, to the Labrador fire outside Selma in the southwest. There were 4,500 firefighters fighting the fires.

The Douglas Complex was 83 percent contained at 76 square miles outside Glendale. The threat to local homes has been lifted.

The Labrador fire continued to creep uncontained through the Kalmiopsis Wilderness along the Illinois River outside Selma. It has burned through 3.2 square miles.

The Whiskey Complex was 80 percent contained at 27 square miles outside Tiller.

In the Rogue River Canyon, the Big Whiskey Complex was 30 percent contained at 37 square miles. Whitewater rafters continued to float through the canyon, but forest roads used to shuttle rafter vehicles were closed.

The Big Sheep 2 fire was 55 percent contained at 129 acres.