LINCOLN COUNTY — The Echo Mountain Complex fire doubled in size in the course of 24 hours, from an estimated acreage of around 1,000 on Wednesday morning to just less than 2,500 acres on Thursday.
Oregon Emergency Management’s website lists the cause of the 2,435-acre Echo Mountain Complex fire as “human” but provides no more details — that designation could include most causes other than lightning strikes — and the Oregon Forestry Department said in a noon press release Thursday the cause was still under investigation.
Fires were first reported in the late evening Labor Day and burned through neighborhoods on a stretch north of Highway 18 from Otis to Rose Lodge through Tuesday afternoon, when initial estimated acreage was around 170 between the two main fires now included in the complex. Overnight, flames jumped Highway 18, pushed south and east by winds gusting up to 50 mph, and forced evacuation of most of Lincoln City.
The fire reached East Devils Lake Road at Neotsu by noon Wednesday. Embers also ignited grassfires on the golf course at Chinook Winds Casino Resort, which had been designated as an evacuation site but was itself evacuated. It’s still not clear how many houses were affected by the flames — ODF says it could be days before damage estimates are completed — but an ODF map indicates the fire traversed multiple populated areas between Otis and Devils Lake, as well as parts east. Photos posted on social media purport to show many homes burned to the ground in neighborhoods off Highway 18, and witness accounts indicate dozens of structures were lost.
About 100 personnel from ODF and fire agencies from Lincoln, Polk and Tillamook counties have been working the blaze, and additional personnel are incoming from the Florida Forestry Service. Crews are working with all ground-based resources, as aerial equipment is dedicated to larger fires elsewhere in the state. Ashley Lertora, public information officer for the forestry department, said the rapidly moving fire had largely been too dangerous to actively fight, and firefighters had concentrated efforts on assisting with evacuations and protecting structures where possible.
Evacuation orders remain in effect in Otis, Rose Lodge and most of Lincoln City north of Southwest 12th Street, as well as a section several miles to the east, roughly north of Schooner Creek Road to North Slick Creek Road. The fire was still zero percent contained, the forestry department’s press release said, but winds shifted from easterly to southwesterly overnight, offering hope that firefighters could soon establish control lines around the perimeter. There’s no word yet on when people can return to their homes — a press release from Lincoln County said it could be as early as Thursday evening. Highway 101 northbound remained closed at Gleneden Beach.
Lertora said, “Now with the weather change we can really start fighting this fire and working it from the east side, establishing an anchor point.”
John Saltenberger, fire weather program coordinator for the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, said prospects appear favorable that the worst is now over, with a cooling and moistening trend continuing into Saturday. “It’s not unusual to have offshore winds and low humidity come to the Oregon coast on occasion in August through October. What was unusual was the strength of these winds. It was a remarkably strong, gusty wind event, and long lasting, but it looks like it’s run its course,” Saltenberger said.
The Echo Mountain Complex fire designation includes fires at Echo Mountain, the largest blaze, which threatened Lincoln City proper on Thursday, and a smaller section to the east at Kimberling Mountain, as well as a still-active fire started early Tuesday morning east of Waldport (the Terrace fire) that was contained after burning less than one-half acre.