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Frustrations from I-84 closure hit hard in Skamania County

More than 900 firefighters are working to contain the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge. Other local officials are working to keep pets safe and inform the public. Photo courtesy Multnomah County Communications

Interstate 84 has been closed for more than a week on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge as crews clear roadside dangers from the Eagle Creek Fire.

On the Washington side, State Route 14 is seeing heavy traffic through Skamania County.

“A lot of it is just erratic drivers passing, speeding,” said Skamania County Sheriff Dave Brown. “People driving it like it’s a freeway … I think they’re frustrated.”

Sheriff Brown is frustrated too, but mostly with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). He said there’s been, “very little communication back and forth with them on what their plan is with I-84."

Sheriff Brown said he doesn’t think Oregon realizes the impact big decisions - like closing I-84 - has on Washington. Specifically he noted the impact closing commercial traffic has on these small cities.

When ODOT first shuttered the interstate on Monday, Sept. 4 between Hood River and Troutdale, SR-14 became many people’s main route through the Gorge.

Sheriff Brown said that decision had a big impact on his community. There are commercial traffic restrictions on SR-14 that only allow local commercial traffic.

“Well you see your supplies dwindling down fast, especially when there so many people coming in all of sudden,” Astrid Diek, co-owner of the Home Valley Store in Skamania County, said. Astrid said her store was packed with people filling up on gas and goods right after the fire started. She said she initially feared her store would run out of supplies.

“The gas stations and Carson and Stevens were out of gas almost immediately,” Home Valley Store's other owner, Rolf Diek, said.

“We've got to keep the local economy moving here or it would just kill us,” Sheriff Brown said.

Sheriff Brown said he is used to this. The roads are usually shut down over winter driving conditions. He said the two states have some work to do to figure out how to best handle these situations.

The irony in all of this, he says, is there was supposed to be a meeting between those on either side of the Columbia River this week to discuss how to handle these situations. That meeting was cancelled because of the fire.

ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton said they are working with WashDOT to make sure everyone up-to-date on the progress along I-84.

“Any time you close an interstate highway it is going to cause a tremendous amount of disruptions,” said Hamilton. “It’s no secret to anyone in Skamania County about the difficulties of the fire. We’ve got Interstate 84 closed, and that’s certainly a hardship for people living in Stevenson and Skamania County.”

Hamilton acknowledges that this has been a lengthy closure, and asks that people “just bear with us a little longer” as they ensure the road’s safety through the Oregon side of the Gorge corridor.

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