Zach Urness and Connor Radnovich
Salem Statesman Journal
Published 9:02 PM EDT Sep 11, 2020
This story includes consistent updates on wildfires burning across Oregon and evacuations.
UPDATE at 4 p.m.
Sheriffs provide status update on evacuated areas
A joint statement from the Marion and Linn County Sheriff’s offices issued Friday provided details on a range of concerns for Santiam Canyon residents.
Officials say deputies and law enforcement partners are continuing to patrol evacuated areas and will seek out and arrest anyone who attempts to take advantage of vacated homes and businesses. The effort is supported by road blocks staffed by the Oregon National Guard.
Residents who need to report a missing family member can contact the respective county’s dispatch line:
- Marion County Sheriff’s Office: 503-588-5032
- Linn County Sheriff’s Office: 541-976-3950
An effort is underway to plan for the removal of boats from Detroit Lake. Officials ask that boat owners send their contact information to Marion County Marine Patrol Deputy Garrett Olson at [email protected]
Finally, the Marion County Sheriff’s office reiterated that they have recieved no information to believe the wildfires in Marion County were the result of arson.
Update at 2:35
Wildfire near Sweet Home called ‘suspicious’ by Linn County Sheriff
At approximately 7 a.m. Friday morning, the Sweet Home Fire District was dispatched to West Brush Creek Road for a fire along the roadway and up the hill in the trees, officials said.
Linn County deputies spotted the fire that had grown to roughly 10 to 15 acres. It was attacked and contained with help from the Oregon Department of Forestry and other nearby fire crews.
“The fire has been determined to be suspicious in nature and is being investigated at this time,” the Linn County Sheriff’s Office said.
Previously, Linn County asked residents not to speculate about the cause of the fire.
“Please do not speculate on the cause of the fire because it has not been determined,” wrote Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon on Facebook. “It is not helping anyone. It is only scaring people. If you did not hear it from us or the fire departments, I would not trust it. Stop spreading rumors.”
Updated: 12:17 p.m.
Firefighters worry about Beachie Creek, Riverside fires creating their own weather
The biggest concern about the Riverside Fire and Beachie Creek Fire is that they could merge, Holly Krake, public information officer with the Riverside Fire, said Friday morning. The fires were about 1 air mile apart, but they could merge if fire growth continues.
The concern about those fires merging is rooted in smoke.
In general, if smoke plumes from two massive fires converge, it has the potential to create “plume dominated” fire behavior. This behavior is marked on the ground by down draft winds, erratic wind shifts and plunging humidity.
Essentially, the fire could have its own weather.
These conditions can limit the ability for firefighters to combat the blaze directly and puts any towns in the fire’s path at greater risk. Fuels in the Mt. Hood National Forest – where the fire is burning – are already at record dryness levels.
“You combine extremely dry fuels, erratic winds, a fire creating its own weather conditions, it can lead to some of those extreme fire behaviors that just aren’t safe,” Krake said.
On Thursday, the fire’s intensity led officials to pull back all firefighting and emergency personnel for about two hours.
Evacuations: Check your address for evacuation levels, orders county by county
Clackamas Fire called it a “tactical pause” to allow firefighters to reposition and evaluate conditions.
“We haven’t abandoned you & working hard to keep you safe,” they tweeted.
Krake said 178 personnel are currently battling the fire, with more expected to arrive over the weekend.
Air support is also available, but due to thick smoke few flights have been made since the fire started on Sept. 8.
— Connor Radnovich
Updated: 9:45 a.m.
The Beachie Creek and Riverside megafires continued moving closer together Friday, creating one giant fire zone that is threatening Estacada, Molalla and Scotts Mills areas, officials said.
The Beachie Creek, formerly the Santiam Fire, was mapped at 186,856 acres, up from 182,000 Thursday.
The Riverside Fire, which is only a half-mile from Estacada and includes a number of smaller fires, was mapped at 130,049 acres.
The good news is that weather conditions are excepted to improve firefighting conditions and reports this morning indicate moderating fire behavior on both blazes.
And, if both fires stay cooler, a merging won’t be as big of an issue, fire officials said. The forecast calls for gradually improving conditions and even rain on Monday.
The best maps showing the fires and evacuation levels for the Clackamas County and the Riverside Fire can be found here. The best map showing the evacuation areas for Marion and Linn County and the Beachie Creek Fire can be found here.
Beachie Fire slows approach near Stayton
Major progress has been made on active fire near Mehama. While fire officials wouldn’t say Stayton and Sublimity are out of the woods, they said good progress in protecting the remainder of the Highway 22 corridor had been made. Stayton remains on a level 2 evacuation level.
“There is still some danger just north of Highway 22 in the Fern Ridge and Mill Creek drainages,” fire spokesman Stephen Myers said. “But in general, the fire held pretty good in Mehama.”
Riverside Fire within half mile of Estacada
The biggest concern right now is the proximity of the Riverside Fire to the town of Estacada.
At just a half-mile from town, and with a large spot fire in front of the main fire, Estacada represents the town most in danger. However, there hasn’t been reports of active fire in or near the town as of this morning, fire officials said.
The Riverside Fire is six miles from Molalla and a half mile from the town of Colton. A current map of the fire can be found here.
“Firefighters are focused on life safety and point protection on homes and buildings,” Riverside Fire spokeswoman Holly Krake said. “Because of the thick smoke, we haven’t been able to drop water or retardant on the fire. We have tankers ready, but they need to be able to see.”
Level 3 evacuations have been in place for Estacada, Molalla and the surrounding area for a few days. But yesterday’s growth brought level 2 evacuation orders for Oregon City and Canby, and level 1 evacuation warnings for the southwest Portland Metro Area.
“Yesterday erratic winds pushed new growth on virtually all sides of the fire with crews reporting the largest growth to the east and southeast throughout the day.
Beachie Creek Fire brings concern to Scotts Mills, Silver Falls
The Beachie Creek Fire is bringing the most concern to Scotts Mills, Drake’s Crossing and Silver Falls State Park. The fire remains a long distance from Silverton, Beachie Creek Fire officials said.
Fire crews have been focused on protecting homes and buildings in the Scotts Mills, Crooked Finger and between Silverton and Silver Falls.
Myers said good progress was made in keeping the fire out of Silver Falls State Park.
Santiam Canyon notes
Marion County officials may have updated data on the number of buildings burned today, in addition to the number of people killed in the fire. The number of confirmed fatalities in the county currently stands at two.
Myers stressed the need for people to stay out of the level 3 evacuation zone east of Stayton along Highway 22 so fire officials could continue reopening the area for local residents.
Looting and dangerous behavior have been reported in the area. Two men were arrested for looting on Thursday.
Read more: Men accused of looting homes in Santiam Canyon wildfire zone arrested after wild chase
Wildfire weather begins improvement, but air quality to remain poor
After some of the worst fire weather in Oregon’s history, the National Weather Service in Portland said things will gradually improve starting today (Friday). Here were the three reasons:
- The dry east winds are over, and with that the worst fire weather conditions are done.
- Marine air, that comes from the Pacific Ocean instead of the east, will gradually work inland the next few days, pushing the worst of the smoke out. In the short term, however, the smoke will stick around and the air quality will remain less than ideal.
- Chances for rain return early next week, beginning late Monday and increasing Tuesday.
United Way opens Salem hub for evacuees near fairgrounds
United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley has organized a one-stop “shopping” hub for people impacted by the wildfires, and it’s stocked with everything from toiletries and bedding to fresh produce and toys.
The organization is calling it the United Way Resource Hub, a place where those displaced by the fires can gather essential items they need in addition to connecting with other resources.
The hub opens at noon today in a 4,100-foot warehouse space donated by Jet Industries, Inc., a local family-owned HVAC, electrical and plumbing contractor, on Silverton Road NE across from the Oregon State Fairgrounds, where the American Red Cross has operated an evacuation staging site since Tuesday.
United Way also has the use of 2,100 square feet of space on site to store overflow donations, which have been pouring in in the wake of thousands of people being evacuated from their homes in the Santiam Canyon. Many left towns such as Detroit and Mill City with only the clothes on their backs.
“There are so many people that are inspired and engaged,” said Elizabeth Schrader, chief development officer for the local United Way.
The hub, 1705 Silverton Rd. NE, will be open from noon to 5 p.m. today. Hours for Saturday and Sunday are still being finalized.
People who come to the hub will be asked to provide their name, where they evacuated from and the number of family members. In addition to gathering essentials, they also will be able to connect on site with United Way community partners such Northwest Human Services, Willamette Humane Society, Early Learning Hub, Center 50+, Cherriots and Catholic Community Services.
The most recent list of needed items posted by United Way includes masks, cleaning supplies, sleeping bags, air mattresses, tents, pillows, travel shampoos, lotion, soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, prepackaged food items (granola bars, etc), diapers, wipes, formula and bottles.
“I have a pile of 100 pillows,” Schrader said as she scanned the inventory. “I know I will need 100 more tomorrow. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re going to need these goods and services for quite some time while our community rebuilds itself.”
All donated items should be new and can be dropped off at the hub or the United Way office, 455 Bliler Ave. NE. United Way is not accepting clothing or water at this time.
Donations also can be made to the Mid-Valley Wildfire Relief Fund.
Evacuations climb over 500,000 Oregonians
Authorities in Oregon now say more than 500,000 people statewide have been forced to evacuate because of wildfires.
The latest figures from Thursday evening come from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. That’s over 10% of the state’s 4.2 million population.
More than 1,400 square miles have burned this week in the state. Authorities say the wildfire activity was particularly acute Thursday afternoon in northwestern Oregon as hot, windy conditions continued.
Oregon asks Salvation Army for help with 6,000 meals daily
The state of Oregon has asked the Salvation Army to provide 6,000 meals a day at three evacuee locations to help wildfire victims.
The three locations are the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, and the Jackson County Expo in Central Point.
In addition, the Salvation Army will continue to provide meals in three other locations in Linn, Douglas and Lincoln counties.
Those locations are at the Linn Benton Fairgrounds in Albany, the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Roseburg, and the Newport Recreation Center in Newport.
For those who would like to volunteer, contact Lisa Cole at [email protected]