Sunday witnessed the outbreak of a swiftly progressing wildfire in the vicinity of Underwood, Washington, located in the scenic Columbia River Gorge. The fire ignited approximately at 11:19 am, as per the records of Skamania County Sheriff’s Office. This alarming incident coincides with the advent of a heat wave in the states of Washington and Oregon, which is predicted to extend until the Fourth of July.
As the day progressed, the Sheriff’s Office updated that by 3:30 p.m., the blaze had spread over an area of approximately 125 acres. The Washington Department of Natural Resources confirmed the destruction of several structures, however, it remained uncertain whether any residences were included in the losses.
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Evacuation orders of the highest severity, Level 3, have been implemented within a two-mile radius along Cook Underhill Road from the fire’s epicenter. The residents leaving their homes have been directed to seek shelter at the Skamania County Fairgrounds. In response to the escalating crisis, several businesses within Skamania County have taken to social media platforms to announce their evacuation. The fire, christened as Tunnel 5 Fire, is believed to pose a threat to nearly 100 buildings.
Just before 11 p.m., an update from The Washington State Department of Natural Resources Wildfire team revealed a drastic increase in the area consumed by the Tunnel Five Fire, now recorded at 315 acres. A Type 3 incident team assumed control of the situation at 10 p.m., with Level 3 – GO NOW evacuation orders continuing to be in effect.
With the assistance of the Washington State Fire Services Resource Mobilization Plan, the state fire assistance has been activated in aid of the local firefighters tackling the Tunnel Five Fire. The wildfire continues to burn through timber and brush, posing an ongoing threat to homes. The fire’s coverage is estimated to have expanded to 150 acres.
#WaWILDFIRE UPDATE #Tunnel5Fire indeterminate acreage and Skamania Sheriff’s Office expanded evacuations. Red Cross is at the fairgrounds to aid displaced folks. Unconfirmed amount of structures lost, power being shut off to some locations. Please avoid area. pic.twitter.com/08W7qUL4Y7— Washington State DNR Wildfire (@waDNR_fire) July 3, 2023
Multiple reports of a fire in proximity to Milepost 61 on State Route 14 were received by the officials, tracing back the origin of the Tunnel Five Fire to Sunday morning at around 11:19 a.m. A coordinated response from several firefighting agencies, including Skamania County Fire District 3, Skamania County Fire District 1, Klickitat County Fire District 3, White Salmon Fire, the Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service, is underway to combat the inferno.
Air support is in action, dispersing water and fire retardants over the blaze. The Skamania County Sheriff’s Office has issued reverse 911 calls to alert the residents for evacuation, with law enforcement officers assisting on-ground evacuation processes. The fire’s outbreak is categorized as a Type II incident, confirming the burning of several structures, with the exact count still undetermined.
As investigations continue, the cause of the fire remains unknown. Individuals who have evacuated their homes are being accommodated at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, where the Red Cross is providing necessary resources.
Christened the Tunnel 5 Fire, the wildfire initially broke out in the Columbia River Gorge near Underwood, Washington. At the time of its identification, the fire had spread over 75 acres and was advancing rapidly, threatening 100 structures. Amidst uncertainty about the exact number of lost structures, local residents reported the fire scaling the hillside.
Weather reports suggest that winds at Hood River are blowing from the west-northwest at 9 mph. Reports from local residents, such as Kai McConnell, suggest the fire ignited beneath her parent’s property in Underwood. Current efforts to control the fire include the use of planes scooping up water from the Columbia River to douse the flames.