Memaloose Park Fire 35 percent contained, homes threatened, considered a 'dirty burn'

As of July 7, 2018, the Memaloose Fire had burned 65 acres and was 25 percent contained. KATU photo

MOSIER, Ore. – Since it sparked late Friday afternoon, the Memaloose Park Fire has burned about 65 acres east of Mosier and is 35 percent contained, but officials are cautiously optimistic they can contain it soon.

What sparked the fire is still under investigation, but the U.S. Forest Service says it is a human-caused fire. Breezy conditions helped the fire spread east from a rest stop near Memaloose State Park. It eventually jumped over Interstate 84 and spread uphill.

Fire officials say unburned fuels within the fire perimeter are making it difficult to fully contain the fire.

“[It is] a dirty burn with lots of potential risk due to the adjacent homes and campground facilities,” said Gordon Foster, incident commander with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Firefighters continue to work on the ground while a Type 2 helicopter has periodically dropped water from the air.

Officials say the nearby community of Rowena Dell is threatened. They are worried the fire will establish itself in a nearby canyon and spread quickly uphill to the residential area.

“It can easily spark and start another fire and move along,” said Stan Hinatsu, a public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service. “We are being cautious. Cautiously optimistic, and cautious in our approach.”

Evacuation levels are as follows:

-- Level 2: Rowena Dell
-- Level 1: The surrounding Rowena area
-- Level 1: Morgensen Rd from State Rd to Dundas Way and then East down Dell Rd.

Hwy 30 remains CLOSED between Mosier and Rowena.

The Wasco County Sheriff's office says you should avoid the area if it all possible. Keep clear of first responders and fire crews if travel is unavoidable.

As the fire spread Friday, it ran onto Collin Zylka’s property east of Mosier.

“We're watching the smoke come up from the highway area. Next thing you know after about 15-20 minutes, the smoke is literally coming up from over the top of the bluff here,” said Zylka.

Zylka evacuated with two others before getting an official evacuation notice.

“We thought, let’s not take any chances, let’s just pack up and go and we're glad we did,” he said.

Firefighters are now staged at Zylka’s property. There is also a pinkish line in the dry grass surrounding his home from an air drop of fire retardant. It proved successful and kept the fire from getting any closer.

Hinatsu says retardant works very well in finger fuels like the grass around Zylka's home.

"They really worked hard, we can't appreciate their efforts any more," said Zylka.

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