Officials removed Level 1 “Get ready” evacuation notices for parts of the western and northern areas of Clackamas County Sunday — indicating that the two large fires threatening the greater Portland area are posing less of a threat as firefighting conditions improve.
Residents of Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Clackamas, Happy Valley, Gladstone, Tualatin, Milwaukie and some areas of Boring and Damascus are no longer on alert that they should pack and await orders that they might have to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
But officials are still advising the public to keep close watch on updates because the situation can quickly change. The Riverside fire, which is burning about half a mile from Estacada in Clackamas County, and the Beachie Creek fire, which started in Marion County but has crept into southwestern Clackamas County, both remained completely uncontained Sunday.
Sunday, Gov. Kate Brown told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Oregon’s record-shattering wildfires were the result of an “incredible” wind storm, “decades of mismanagement of our forests in this country” and climate change.
“We have a landscape that has seen 30 years of drought,” Brown said. “This is truly the bellwether for climate change on the West Coast and this is a wake up call for all of us — that we’ve got to do everything in our power to tackle climate change.”
The blazes have scorched more than 1 million acres across Oregon, spanning from the southern border to the coast and Clackamas County. That figure is about twice the yearly average over each of the past 10 years.
Across the state so far, authorities have confirmed that 10 people have died, at least a dozen are unaccounted for and hundreds are reeling from lost homes due to the widespread wildfires that continue to burn.
In an editorial in The Washington Post, former state Rep. Julie Parrish blamed a host of other reasons other than climate change for the wildfires. Among them, she said, were policies that have been “preserving the forests as untouchable playgrounds” and denying rural communities timber jobs. Parrish is a Republican who represented West Linn and is a founding member of the Timber Unity Association.
Over the weekend, Oregon’s congressional members asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to act fast by providing more housing aid for the short- and long-terms to the many Oregonians who have fled the path of the fires.
The blazes have caused widespread evacuations, forcing more than 40,000 people to leave their homes. That also has led to widespread fears that looters would pilfer unattended homes and businesses. Law enforcement say that largely hasn’t turned out to be the case, and that they are patrolling evacuated zones in force and have caught just a few thieves.
In Clackamas County, 36 sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers were patrolling zones under Level 2 or Level 3 evacuation orders Saturday night. Over a three-day span last week, dispatchers received nearly 330 calls — many from residents concerned about burglaries and other suspicious activity. That’s a 405% increase from a three-day period just before the fires started to rage out of control.
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday night that deputies had caught Buck Adam Nickel, 41, of Estacada, and Kimberlee Tipton, 52, of Milwaukie, after the pair found a trailer in Eagle Creek and “decided to help themselves.”
The trailer was being used by echo good Samaritans who were traveling around Clackamas County helping people evacuate from Level 3 zones. The trailer got a flat tire and when the good Samaritans left it along Judd Road to get supplies to fix the tire, Nickel and Tipton struck and were caught in the act by a deputy, according to the sheriff’s office.
Nickel was arrested under accusations of first-degree theft and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Tipton was cited with first-degree theft.
“The owners of the trailer were reportedly very happy when they arrived back at the scene and saw the suspects in custody,” stated a sheriff’s news release.
Air quality is off the charts
Portland’s air quality significantly worsened Sunday, reaching 516 in parts of the city on the air quality index by morning, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That measurement is off the charts, which top out at 300 to 500 and categorize those numbers as “hazardous.”
The international air quality monitoring website IQAir.com was registering a lower number of 229 for Portland overall. That number is deemed “very unhealthy” for everyone. And that number was still high enough to continue Portland’s ranking as No. 1 in worst air quality among major cities in the world.
Residents in other parts of Oregon were suffering terribly as well. Corvallis was registering at 318, Medford at 323, Albany at 427, Salem at 446, Bend at 490, Eugene at 511 and Roseburg at 579.
Visibility is so poor in many areas that the Oregon Department of Transportation was urging people not to drive and to stay home if at all possible. Health experts were advising the same, because current air conditions can have a serious effect on health.
The air quality could start improving late Monday, according to forecasters.
Clackamas County fires
Sunday’s announcement that the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office has lifted Level 1 evacuation notices to some of the western and northern parts of the county came as a huge relief to many residents.
But the Riverside fire, now burning more than 133,000 acres, was still within half a mile of the small city of Estacada on Sunday. The fire was still 0% contained Sunday morning, with 315 people fighting the blaze, up from 246 people on Saturday. The fire’s growth, however, has slowed considerably.
The U.S. Forest Service said good weather conditions were limiting the rapid growth of the blaze, but conditions remained dangerous, and the fire remains active. Sunday, firefighters planned to use two drones to assess the fire.
They hope use helicopters to help put out the fire as soon as visibility improves. A temporary no-flight zone has been set up, and authorities warned the public not to fly personal drones over burned areas because that will cause all firefighting aircraft to be grounded.
A big chunk of Clackamas County, including Estacada, is still under a Level 3 “Go!” evacuation order. Some other parts of the county are under less immediate evacuation orders. Oregon City, Sandy and Canby were downgraded late Saturday to Level 1 alerts, meaning those cities faced less significant danger, but residents should still be prepared to evacuate if necessary.
Residents in the Level 1 zone no longer have to abide by a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew. The curfew still stands for Level 2 and 3 zones. View the full map of zones here.
The 188,000-acre Beachie Creek fire devastated Santiam Canyon on Tuesday, all but destroying entire towns and killing at least four people.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday reduced the evacuation levels of several cities. Lyons, Gates and Detroit are among those that remain under Level 3 evacuations.
The sheriff’s office is continuing to prohibit the public from returning to scorched areas, but residents of the Detroit and Idanha areas can call 503-798-6823 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to ask that a deputy check the status of their homes and animals that might have been left behind.
The Salem Statesman-Journal also is maintaining a list of which structures made it and which ones didn’t.
Search and rescue personnel have continued to look for the dead amid the devastated areas along Oregon 22, which straddles the border between Linn and Marion counties. Lyons, Gates and Detroit are among the towns devastated by the wildfires.
Two of the people found dead have been identified as Wyatt Tofte, 13, and Peggy Mosso, 71.
Sgt. Jeremy Landers said on Saturday evening that the other two confirmed fatalities have not yet been identified. Officials confirmed that five people were missing from the fires.
Also burning in part of Marion County is the Lionshead fire, which covered more than 138,000 acres and was 5% contained Sunday. Control lines on the east and south sides of the fire on the Warm Springs Reservation are continuing to hold.
Residents of the Sidwalter Flats area of the reservation have been given a Level 1 evacuation warning — “Get Ready.”
Members of the public wanting to help evacuees can donate to the Red Cross or the United Way Wildfire Relief fund, which needs cash as well as supplies such as masks and durable work gloves. A list of donation needs and drop-off locations in Marion County can be found here.
Five people have now been confirmed dead in the aftermath of the Almeda and South Obenchain wildfires burning in southern Oregon.
Rich Tyler, spokesman for the Oregon fire marshal, said authorities will not release the names of those who died until all next of kin have been notified.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said detectives have found all but one of the 50 people reported missing after the fire.
Tyler stressed the number tied to the two Jackson County fires is fluid and subject to change as officials work to track down displaced people.
“This is a snapshot in time,” Tyler told The Oregonian/OregonLive on Friday morning. “They are still working through the list. This is dynamic. This snapshot in time is going to change in the next hours and as they make phone calls and are in communication with people.”
Sheriffs officials in Douglas and Jefferson counties, where large fires also continue to burn, have said they have no reports of people who are unaccounted for.
By Sunday morning, the 3,200-acre Almeda fire was 60% contained, and the 25,000-acre South Obenchain blaze was 20% contained. Some areas near the South Obenchain fire were moved up to Level 2 near the perimeter. More information here.
Several areas near the Almeda fire were lowered from Level 2 (get ready) to Level 1 on Saturday as conditions improved.
The Slater fire is estimated at 122,000 acres as of Sunday and completely uncontained, prompting evacuations of residents along the Redwood Highway near the California border, as well as all areas of the Oregon Caves National Monument. An evacuation map is available on the county website.
Firefighters have kept the fire away from towns like Cave Junction and Kerby, but parts of those towns remained under some level of evacuation orders. No residential structures are known to have burned in the fires, but 150 “structures” had been destroyed as of Sunday.
County officials said evacuees can find shelter at the county fairgrounds in Grants Pass.
The human-caused Brattain fire grew explosively, from 8,000 acres Saturday to 20,000 acres Sunday. It also is 0% contained.
Fire crews also upped their numbers from 90 people fighting the blaze to 192 on Sunday.
Firefighters conducted burning operations Saturday in an effort to protect the small town of Paisley and outlying homes from the Brattain fire.
The operations prompted a Level 3 evacuation for all residents of Paisley, which is home to over 300 people.
The American Red Cross established an evacuation area at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Lakeview.
The Holiday Farm fire has decimated Blue River, where about 800 people live, and ravaged countless other buildings and dwellings along Oregon 126.
The fire grew more than 5,000 acres from Saturday to Sunday morning, covering a total of nearly 162,000 acres. The good news was firefighters, who had previously been unable to contain any of the fire, had contained 5% by Sunday morning.
When fire crews went to survey damage near Vida Friday, they discovered a body inside a home on Goodpasture Road, the local sheriff’s office said.
The Archie Creek fire grew by more than 5,500 acres from Saturday to Sunday, to 121,379 acres east of Roseburg. But firefighters, who previously hadn’t contained any of the blaze, had contained 10% by Sunday morning.
More than 500 people have been assigned to fighting the fire.
Electrical lines and large sections of private and federal timber lands are threatened, officials said.
Firefighters Saturday worked with industrial landowners and loggers to protect structures and create containment lines around the fire.
But thick smoke prevented firefighters from suppressing the fire from the air. Road crews are working to clear downed trees from Oregon 138, so it’s safe and clear for firefighters to get to the areas they need to reach.
Some evacuation levels were lowered Friday, though some residents remain under Level 3 orders and all county residents remain under at least a Level 1 (be ready) order. The sheriff’s office said residents of areas under Level 3 evacuation orders can learn more about their properties in a private meeting Sunday afternoon at Glide High School. Residents must provide proof of address to attend.
Officials expect warm, dry, breezy conditions to continue Sunday.
The Echo Mountain Complex remained at 2,435 acres from Saturday into Sunday. During that same stretch, firefighters were able to increase the amount of fire that’s contained from 15% to 20%.
Rain and mist are forecast for late Sunday, which is good news for the firefighting efforts. More than 380 people are assigned to battling the fire.
Some areas remain under Level 3 evacuations while other evacuation levels have been downgraded or removed. The Statesman Journal reported Saturday that U.S. 101 through Lincoln City is reopened to traffic. Oregon 18 remains closed.
The Chehalem-Bald Peak fire was 75% contained Sunday. All Level 3 evacuation orders had been lifted — meaning all residents are allowed to return home.
Portland General Electric has been working to restore power to homes that were previously in the Level 3, “Go!” zone. Some residents Sunday were still in the Level 2 “Be Ready” zone and were told to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice. Residents can enter the address into this interactive map to determine their evacuation zone.
About 30 firefighters from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue were working the fire, as well as hand crews from the Oregon Department of Forestry, who were focusing on dousing hot spots.
Fire marshal put on leave, resigns
The Oregon State Police on Saturday announced Fire Marshal Jim Walker had been put on paid administrative leave. Then, later in the day, the state police announced its superintendent had accepted a resignation offer from Walker.
The state police did not said why Walker was put on leave. But a source familiar with the situation said Superintendent Travis Hampton had lost confidence and trust in Walker’s ability to manage the historic wildfires.
Walker, the source said, had effectively turned over day-to-day management of the fires to his chief deputy, Mariana Ruiz-Temple.
Ruiz-Temple was appointed the acting fire marshal while Walker was on leave. She has since been appointed as fire marshal.
Antifa rumors untrue
Many rumors and conspiracy theories have surfaced during Oregon’s spate of wildfires, such as those claiming anti-fascists were operating a coordinated arson campaign throughout the state. Such rumors, as well as claims of widespread looting, are not true.
— Aimee Green, Jim Ryan, Jayati Ramakrishnan, and The Oregonian/OregonLive staff
Noelle Crombie, Fedor Zarkhin, K. Rambo, Jeff Manning, Jamie Hale and Shane Dixon Kavanaugh of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this report, which has been updated throughout the day.