Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared a wildfire emergency in Oregon, where fire in the Santiam Canyon forced evacuations and wildfires elsewhere sent thick smoke across western Oregon, from Mount Hood to Lincoln County.
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Brown addressed the blazes, along with officials from the state’s health authority, fire marshal’s office, department of forestry and office of emergency management.
“This is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state,” Brown said.
According to the governor, the Santiam Canyon fire, along with the Lionsehead fire, have burned an estimated 200,000 acres so far.
Earlier Tuesday, Marion County commissioners declared a state of emergency as frightening videos show structures burning in Mill City.
More than 4,000 people live in towns and homes around Santiam Canyon, along which Oregon 22 winds and curves through Cascades foothills between the Mehama-Lyons area east past the tiny hamlet of Idanha — a stretch of some 30-plus miles in Marion County. It includes Detroit Lake, a popular outdoor recreation area near Mt. Jefferson and about a two-hour drive southeast of Portland.
Evacuated areas for the Santiam Canyon fire include: residents living in the canyon from the community of Mehama east to Detroit— including Mill City, Gates, Detroit, the North Fork corridor, Scotts Mills and south through the Crooked Finger area—were told to leave immediately. Evacuation orders were expanded early Tuesday to include the area west of the Mehama community to Cascade Highway Southeast and north to Highway 214.
Residents on standby: residents of Stayton, Sublimity, Aumsville, Silverton, Highway 213 west of Mt. Angel and Silverton to Drakes Crossing were told to be ready to go.
More than 100 families from the Santiam Canyon had gathered at the Oregon State Fairgrounds to escape the encroaching fire and wait for news about their loved, friends, homes and livestock, according the Salem Reporter.
David Driver, 82, and his wife Caroline, 74, left their home in Gates, packing the deeds to the house and taking a car and a van. David Driver said he assumed the house he built in 1995 had burned. That leaves the couple with an uncertain future, he said.
“I’m just too old to do that again,” Driver told the newspaper.
Several evacuation orders are also in effect in Lane County as a result of the McKenzie Fire, which is also being called the Holiday Farm fire. The Lane County Board of Commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday and declared a local emergency.
Lane County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky said to expect a loss of life from the fire. It burned 55 square miles, or approximately 35,000 acres since beginning Monday night, according to heat maps, Mokrohisky said Tuesday morning. The fire traveled 13 miles overnight and is still moving west.
The fire has burned 80-100 houses in Blue River, Mokrohisky said he was told by fire responders. Mokrohisky said more homes are expected to burn.
Level 3 evacuation notice, or “GO NOW,” has been issued from Walterville Elementary east to the McKenzie Ranger Station, including all roads to the north and south.The updated evacuation point is Thurston High School for those in Blue River and west of Blue River. Those east of Blue River should travel east to the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond (3800 SE Airport Way).
In Washington County, the Powerline fire near Hagg Lake has prompted evacuations for residents of Dundee Road, Southwest Patton Valley Road, Southwest Lee Road and Southwest Cascara Road near Hagg Lake. The city of Cherry Grove has also been told to evacuate as of 1 p.m.
Southwest South Road between Northwest Mount Richman Road and the city of Cherry Grove has been placed on level 2 orders — meaning they should be ready to evacuate at any time.
Fires have prompted evacuations and emergency responses throughout the state, said Doug Grafe of the Oregon Department of Forestry. Grafe said there are currently significant fires near Klamath Falls, Medford, Southeastern Oregon, Lane and Lincoln counties. Near the Portland metro area, there are also fires burning near Washington County’s Hagg Lake and in Clackamas County.
North of the Oregon border, fire units were dispatched to a grass and brush fire on the western edge of Vancouver near Fruit Valley Road, just after 2:30 p.m., Deputy Fire Marshal Dean Bray said.
KOIN reported a helicopter was on the scene shortly before 4 p.m.
Bray was unable to offer an estimate about the size of the fire. Fourteen units, including command units, were still on the scene just after 5 p.m.
Grafe said steady 20 to 30 mile per hour winds from the east, which had been driving fires for most of the day, will continue Tuesday night. He said Wednesday, the conditions will be more favorable, with winds dropping to 10 to 15 miles per hour, but with 25 mile per hour gusts. That will clear out some of the smoke in the valley, he said, but will lead to higher temperatures.
“The weather system we’ve been experiencing for the last 48 hours is expected to break down on Thursday, which will give us the opportunity to shift strategies as far as life safety,” he said. “Thursday is really our turning point to go on the offensive, if you will.”
The governor called the weekend’s weather conditions “once in a generation.” A cold front and strong east winds combined with driest conditions seen in three decades created catastrophic conditions, officials said.
Fires are closing roads around the state. Check before you hit the road.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management’s northwest Oregon district has closed all recreation sites through Sept. 15, citing extreme fire danger.
Just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service announced it is indefinitely closing the Mt. Hood National Forest to the public effective at 6 p.m. due to wildfires.
That means all camping, both at campgrounds and dispersed in the forest, is closed, plus roads, trails, day use areas and wilderness areas.
“At this time, with extreme fire danger, multiple wildfire growing, and new wildfires igniting and multiple evacuations, it’s simply not safe to visit,” said Forest Supervisor Richard Periman in a news release.
—Jayati Ramakrishnan; 503-221-4320; [email protected]; @JRamakrishnanOR