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Wind-driven wild fire threatens homes along Columbia River in NE Oregon

Evacuation alerts for people living along the Columbia River near Hermiston were eased late Monday morning after a wild fire was threatening homes.

The Bensel Fire was burning a large area on the Oregon side of the river near McNary Dam and Hat Rock Park, said Captain Sterrin Ward, of the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office.

A briefing was held at 8 a.m. Monday when the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Incident Management Team arrived and assumed a unified command of the fire, Ward said in a release.

Sgt. Cody Marcum with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office helps with evacuation notices near McNary Dam in Oregon.
Sgt. Cody Marcum with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office helps with evacuation notices near McNary Dam in Oregon.

As a result of the briefing the evacuation levels from the night before remained in place with no changes. Then, the evacuation levels were eased about 11 a.m. as fire officials continued to evaluate conditions.

A shelter was opened at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center (EOTECH), 1705 E Airport Road, Hermiston. It remained open Monday afternoon.

Evacuation Alerts

Red: Level 3. Go now. Leave immediately

No areas are currently at this level. All previous Level 3 areas have been downgraded to Level 2. And no roads are still closed.

Yellow: Level 2. Be set. Get ready to leave.

Hat Rock Community and Yacht Club

McNary Area: North of Highway 730 to the river between Willamette Avenue and Bud Draper Road.

North of Bensel and Progress Road across Highway 730 to the river. East of Bud Draper Road, all the way to and including Salmon Point.

Green: Level 1. Be ready to leave.

McNary Area: North of Highway 730 (6th Street) to the river between Devore Road and Willamette Avenue.

State resources

The fire reportedly started Sunday afternoon near Bensel Road and Highway 395 and spread quickly in the dry grasses. The first evacuation alerts were issued just before 7 p.m.

The cause is under investigation.

Before Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to mobilize more resources, the Oregon State Fire Marshal had authorized using air tankers and a helicopter to help protect the threatened homes.

“Although portions of Oregon are receiving rain, this is a stark reminder that we are not out of wildfire season yet,” said State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple. “We are asking the people of Oregon to help prevent human-caused fires by remaining wildfire aware.”

The fire crews with the structural task forces were coming from counties throughout Oregon through the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System, said state officials.

A firefighting helicopter used a bucket to douse flames on the Bensel Fire near Hermiston, Ore.
A firefighting helicopter used a bucket to douse flames on the Bensel Fire near Hermiston, Ore.