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Greenery still stands in the Gorge; I-84 could have future closures due to fire damage

Toothrock Tunnel on Interstate 84 was surrounded by burnouts Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. (KATU Photo)

It's a sight you almost never see: Interstate 84 empty.

On Thursday, the Oregon Department of Transportation drove us through the closed roads to get an up close look at the damage.

Some of the most iconic spots, like Multnomah Falls, were still standing tall and surrounded by greenery. Others, like Toothrock Tunnel, were surrounded by burnout.

Here's what it looked like:

“Fire will leap from one area to another, just depending where the embers land,” Jim Trammell, Hood River County Fire Defense chief, said.

He said the Eagle Creek fire is a perfect example of a mosaic fire, leaving some areas lush and green and others completely burned.

So far, Trammell said the Eagle Creek fire is unlike anything he's seen.

“That was very impressive. I haven't seen that type of fire behavior here in my entire career,” Trammell said.

Making matters worse was the extremely dry summer and lack of rain.

“Mother Nature tries to protect itself when there are times of no rain,” Trammell said.

But that protection turns into fuel when it's on fire.

“So these pine trees, to protect themselves, they replace the water content in the summer by pitch, which are terpenes,” Trammell said.

Essentially, filling trees with gas.

“Turpentine, which is a flammable liquid, is distilled from the pitch from pine trees. So when people say it burned like there was gasoline in the tree, in essence there is,” Trammell said.

Crews were quick to tackle spot fires as they popped up along I-84.

But even once the fire is out, officials said the freeway will likely close several times this winter because of fire damage.

“There will be damage this winter, depending on how much rain we get. I’m sure the highway will be open and closed this winter, depending on how much damage there is and trees coming down, and rocks,” Trammell said.

As of now ODOT said it will use this weekend to have tree fellers come in and take down some 2,000 trees that could potentially fall into the roadway. It says I-84 will be closed through the weekend. When it does get ready to open, westbound will be the first to open, as it is easier to clear since it is farther from the fire line.

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