OTIS/LINCOLN CITY — After destroying hundreds of homes in north Lincoln County, the Echo Mountain Complex fire is nearing full containment.
Oregon Department of Forestry Public Affairs Specialist Jim Gersbach said Tuesday the fire east of Lincoln City was 90 percent contained. The incident team that has worked the wildfire since it began its rapid spread the week of Labor Day passed command this weekend to the ODF’s West Oregon District. While firefighters made significant progress fighting the flames, Gersbach said there are remaining dangers in the fire zone, including still-smoldering tree stumps and holes filled with hot ash, as well as fire-weakened trees that might fall or lose branches.
In addition to conducting “mop up” — seeking out hotspots and extinguishing deep fuels from the perimeter in — Gersbach said personnel are also working to mitigate erosion in burnt- and dug-out areas by installing barriers and planting vegetation.
The footprint of the complex is small compared to several massive fires still burning elsewhere in the state, but the residential density in the fire zone meant a disproportionate impact to homes. There have been 264 residences and 16 other structures destroyed by the 200,000-acre Lionshead Fire, whereas the 2,500-acre fire in Lincoln County destroyed 293 homes and damaged 22 other residential structures. Wildfires had burned approximately 1 million acres statewide as of Tuesday, destroying 2,268 homes and 1,556 other structures.
Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers told the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners during their meeting on Monday that deputies had seen no evidence of looting or even any criminal activity in the fire zone, in contrast to other jurisdictions, such as Lane County, which Landers said reported significant looting and sought assistance to stem it. Lincoln County deputies were maintaining 24-hour patrols, Landers said.
With all evacuation orders lifted as of Monday, residents returned to fire-scarred land to survey the damage, many facing potentially hazardous conditions. Paul Seitz, county solid waste manager, told commissioners that most of the homes destroyed were built before 2004, meaning there was a greater likelihood that debris contained toxins like asbestos and were too dangerous to be removed by anyone other than a licensed contractor. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, “Generally, ash and debris can be presumed to contain asbestos and must be abated properly. Otherwise, Oregon requires that an accredited asbestos inspector perform an asbestos survey of the materials to determine next steps.” The county has created a section on its webpage at tinyurl.com/y6o952xq with resources and information on returning to fire-damaged homes.
Onno Husing, county planning director, said his department was consolidating historical property data into a central database, and they would work closely with residents to smooth the permitting process and speed rebuilding. “We are going to do our darnedest to make sure we are not a choke point,” Husing told the board.
There were no fatalities from the Echo Mountain Complex, but nine are confirmed to have died in wildfires statewide since the beginning of the month. Five people are reported missing, and 2,924 people are in temporary shelters, including hundreds of Lincoln County evacuees who are housed in hotels.