Fires burning near The Dalles threaten water treatment facility

THE DALLES, Ore. - Firefighters are trying to protect a water treatment facility for the city of The Dalles that is near a fast-moving wildfire. Residents in about 35 homes were told to be ready to evacuate on a moment's notice.

The Blackburn Fire is burning on steep terrain within the city's watershed, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. The fire, which was first spotted on Friday, has now burned 700 acres.

There are also two smaller fires burning in the area. Because all three are burning in the same area and threatening structures, the governor on Sunday declared a "conflagration." That allows the state fire marshal to bring in firefighters and other resources from around the state.

Residents in those 35 homes were put under "Level 2" evacuation orders. That means they were ordered make any final preparations and be ready to leave. The Red Cross has set up a shelter at Dry Hollow Elementary School in case people need it.

Two outbuildings burned on Sunday, but so far no homes have been touched.

All three fires were started by lightning.

Firefighters have had a difficult time getting to the flames of the Blackburn Fire because of the steep terrain. Strong winds Saturday afternoon also caused the fire to spread.

The flames are burning close to the main water supply facility for The Dalles.

"If the fire encroaches any closer on that particular facility, they'll have to evacuate and as a result shut down the pumps," said Tommy Schroeder, a spokesman for the firefighters.

He said that would essentially cut off the water supply for The Dalles. There are a few other pumps in town, but they wouldn't be able to supply water to some higher parts of the city.

Three helicopters are helping control the flames and three additional air tankers are available if firefighters need them, according to an ODF spokesman.

More than 200 firefighters with more than a dozen pieces of equipment are working on the fires.

"It's difficult to get bulldozers into really steep terrain," Schroeder said.

The firefighters also have to worry about rattlesnakes and poison oak in the area.

"I know our logistics chief was talking about ordering a lot of poison oak soap," Schroeder said. "It's grueling work for them out there. Hats off to them."

The other two fires that make up the conflagration are much smaller. The Government Flat Fire is 168 acres and firefighters say the risk of it spreading is low.

Firefighters have already controlled the Wells Fire at just 66 acres. They will continue to monitor it in case it flares back up.

All of the fires are burning in grass, brush, oak and some fir trees.

For more information about the fires you can call (541) 298-9899.

KATU reporter Dan Cassuto contributed to this report