Traffic moving on Front Street in Salem leaves trails of light streaks caused by a long camera exposure. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Gov. Kate Brown warned Oregonians on Wednesday to expect the greatest loss of life to wildfires in the state’s history.
The governor provided no indication of what the count of fatalities could be from massive wildfires burning out of control throughout the state.
“We expect to see a great deal of loss in both structures and in human lives,” Brown said in a grim call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “The next several days are going to be extremely difficult.”
She spoke as wildfires consuming more than 300,000 acres burned along the flanks of the Cascades from Clackamas County south to the California border and in the coast range. As she was on the line with reporters, she announced that people of Lincoln City were under immediate orders to evacuate.
“We are facing a significant statewide fire emergency,” she said.
She said that Detroit in the Santiam Canyon, Blue River and Vida in the McKenzie River valley east of Springfield, and Talent and Phoenix in southern Oregon had been “substantially destroyed” by the wildfires.
Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, said in the same briefing that “no area in the state is free from fire.”
He said the fires burning in the Santiam Canyon – the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires – merged in the last 24 hours and were now called the Santiam Fire. He said wind speeds had slowed but the fire continued spreading to the north.
Grafe said the fire was “unprecedented” in the Santiam Canyon and that officials are trying to work there way in “to see what we have left in that valley.”
Mariana Ruiz-Temple, chief deputy state fire marshal, echoed the governor’s somber news about the destruction in Oregon’s fires, but said officials are still finding and evacuating people who stayed behind in the canyon.
“We have had significant saves in the last 24 hours,” she said.
She said the fire task forces – crews and firefighters from local fire agencies around Oregon mobilized by order of the governor – continue to seek survivors.
“Our number one priority is reaching the individuals,” she said.
VIDEO: A wildfire that exploded in size overnight Monday, Sept. 7, destroyed this building and others in the community of Gates, situated in the Santiam Canyon east of Salem, Oregon. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)
Andrew Phelps, director of the state Office of Emergency Management, outlined how Oregonians could help those who have had to flee their homes or are under threat of evacuation.
“If you are in a safe place, stay home. Reduce the impact of being on the road,” he said.
He urged Oregonians not to call 911 unless it is a life emergency.
“Don’t call 911 for utility outages,” he said. He said don’t call to report smoke. “There’s smoke everywhere. Our 911 system is inundated with smoke calls.”
All the state officials urged Oregonians to learn the system for evacuations – the three levels that alert people evacuation may be needed, to get ready, and to evacuate. They implored people to obey any notice to evacuate immediately.
“You might not get a second chance,” the governor said.
Grafe said weather more favorable to suppressing the wild fires is expected to take hold across the state on Thursday.
For now, though, he said no fire is under control.
“We’re at zero percent containment,” he said.
Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email at [email protected]
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