Wildfires burning across Oregon are expected to leave a significant trail of lost lives and lost property.
"We expect to see a great deal of loss both in structures and in human lives. This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfires in our state's history," Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in her opening remarks during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 9. "My heart goes out to the families affected."
Brown said Oregon is facing a statewide fire emergency.
Evacuations are occurring across the state and numerous Oregonians have been rescued from harm's way, Brown said, but many more Oregonians will need to evacuate in the coming hours to ensure their safety.
Brown said there are currently five incident management teams fighting 35 wildfires with multiple smaller fires continuing to erupt across the state. The latest fires are in the Santiam Pass area of Marion County, the Lionshead fire near Warm Springs in Central Oregon, the Holiday Farm Fire in rural Lane County and two wildfires in Jackson County.
"Right now, more than 300,000 acres are burning across the state," Brown said. "This is the equivalent of over 500 square miles."
Brown said parts of Oregon where fires are not burning face the worst fire conditions in three decades.
"This means everyone must be on high alert," Brown said.
This week, Brown evoked a fire conflagration act for the entire state, allowing state resources to be placed in areas of need. Brown also has requested a federal emergency declaration to free up federal resources in the response effort. That would include search and rescue, mortuary assistance and mass care shelter and feeding support.
"Our number one priority right now is saving lives," Brown said. “Our statewide strategy is focused on live safety, evacuation and protecting structures."
Oregon Department of Forestry's Chief of Fire Protection Doug Grafe said the combination of a cold front on top of an east winds event and the state's critically dry conditions over the past three years have fueled the wildfires.
Grafe said the winds pushed the fires down steep slopes into cities such as Detroit in the Santiam Canyon and Lincoln City west of the central Oregon Coast Range. Grafe said there is hope that weather conditions will change by Thursday.
“The winds have subsided," he said. "Although we are still seeing gusts of 25 mph in the high mountain passes. Tomorrow begins a hopeful change in weather conditions to give us a chance to shift resources."
Grafe said cooler moist air is expected to flow into the state from the Pacific.
Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps emphasized the need for all Oregonians to be ready for evacuations.
"Stay home if you are in a safe place," Phelps said. "If you are in an evacuation zone, know when you need to go and what you need to take with you. Follow the evacuation orders. Make sure you are prepared as soon as possible."
Oregon Deputy State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple also urged Oregonians to be prepared.
"All residents need to be prepared to understand evacuation levels 1-2-3," she said. "All residents should be ready to go at a moments notice. Be ready to go. Stay tuned to all emergency messages."