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Wallowa County Commisioners, from left, Todd Nash, Susan Roberts and John Hillock listen to the proceedings Saturday, July 17, 2021, at an Incident Team meeting to make plans to battle the Elbow Creek Fire. The statewide team planned to take over from local efforts beginning Sunday morning.

WALLOWA — Although residents threatened by the Elbow Creek Fire have been given a Level 3 evacuation order, not all are leaving, Paul Karvoski, Wallowa County emergency services director, said Saturday, July 17, during an incident team meeting in Wallowa.

He said there are few who have opted to stay.

“For example, you give a Level 3 evacuation order and people have a right to stay in their homes,” he said. “There were a couple of people who did leave and there’s some staying. Most of them aren’t even there, so you’ve maybe got only two or three homes up there with people actually in them.”

Karvoski explained the difference between Level 2 and Level 3.

“Level 2 is pack up and get set. Level 3 is open your front door, jump in your car and go; go now,” he said. “We can give the Level 3 evacuation order to say we want you to go and leave the area.”

He said there are about 20 homes on Eden Bench at the heart of the fire. Only if the fire actually threatens lives would law enforcement get involved.

“It’s up to the sheriff, really, and you can’t really pull people from their homes unless there’s an imminent threat,” he said.

Acting Wallowa County Sheriff Paul Pagano, filling in for the ailing Sheriff Joel Fish, and assisted by Baker County Sheriff Travis Ash, said there have been no incidents where law enforcement was called upon to insist on an evacuation.

Anyone who may have left so far has not had to make use of emergency services, Karvoski said. The county has an arrangement with the Red Cross to put evacuees up at a church in Lewiston, Idaho, but none have yet asked for such help.

He also said the Wallowa County Fairgrounds are open and available for any ranchers needing a place to keep their livestock threatened by the blaze. Although some have moved their stock from threatened areas, they haven’t gone so far as to move them to the fairgrounds.

County Commissioner Todd Nash said there has been virtually no resistance to commission-ordered road closures in the burn area. He said the closures aren’t so much because of the area residents as too keep curious onlookers out.

“That’s what the road closures are for, to keep people out who just want to see the fire,” he said.

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