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Officials to Inslee, Cantwell: Outlook ‘very good’ on Columbia River Gorge wildfire

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(The Center Square) – Officials on Friday told Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Maria Cantwell that the situation was improving during the two politicians’ visit to the site of the Tunnel 5 wildfire in the Columbia River Gorge.

Officials with NW12 and the National Weather Service gave Inslee and Cantwell an afternoon briefing from Wind River Middle School in Carson. Afterward, Inslee and Cantwell viewed the fire and spoke with first responders.

“Things are looking very good for us right now,” said Bobby Shindelar, deputy incident commander for the Northwest Incident Management Team. “Folks have done an outstanding job on a tough firefight.”

“I just want to thank you and your crews,” Inslee said. “Fighting fires is always difficult, but when you’re doing it on 45-degree slopes and rock, it’s tough.”

The fire is still 556 acres, but reached 20% containment by Friday compared to 5% Thursday, according to Inciweb. Officials expect it could reach 35% containment by the end of Friday unless more problems arise, according to Shindelar.

If the fire continues on its current trajectory, Shindelar said NW12 may start turning efforts over to local first responders in three to four days.

The fire has destroyed 10 homes since it began, according to Shindelar. But firefighters have been working to strengthen the perimeter, and winds recently pushed the fire away from its western edge, according to Inciweb.

“Since July 2, when the incident began, we’ve been really hot and dry,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Mary Wister, who is basedin Pendleton, Oregon. “But yesterday we did see a change.”

Wister said a western wind from the Pacific cooled the air and increased the humidity, noting that the area had seen no precipitation and none was forecast at the time of publication.

Firefighters are currently monitoring and patrolling the fire perimeter, as wind gusts could bring challenges on the east and west edges, according to Inciweb. They are working to protect structures and respond to flying embers that light spot fires.

Shindelar said the Department of Corrections has been sending inmates to cook for firefighters.

“The DOC has a plan to maintain that capacity,” Inslee said.

Cantwell said technology like infrared cameras helps first responders monitor the fire.

“We fought very hard to get more technology at the national level,” she said. “We want situational awareness.”

Inslee brought up climate change and what it means in terms of fires.

“There’s not enough infrared cameras in the world to prevent these fires unless we stop climate change,” the governor said. “We’re fighting it on the real frontlines, which is that climate change is making these fires bigger and hotter.”

NW12 has been focusing on supporting firefighters, protecting the public from harm and protecting public values like agriculture and recreation, according to Shindelar.

“Firefighters took on a lot of risk, and they worked under some very severe conditions,” he said. “This could be a totally different outcome.”

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