Thousands of residents across Oregon remain under evacuation orders Wednesday as fast-moving fires burned through at least two towns and the state’s governor declared a wildfire emergency.
The U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region said there are 20 large wildfires burning across Oregon and Washington that have destroyed some 476,027 acres as “extreme fire weather” continues across the region. During a press conference on Tuesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called the weather conditions a “once-in-a-generation event.”
“Almost every year since becoming governor, I’ve witnessed historic fire seasons,” Brown told reporters. “Yet this is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state.”
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Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act for three of the largest blazes, the Beachie Creek, Lionshead and Holiday Farm fires, saying they pose a “threat to life, safety, and property” and exceed local firefighting capabilities.
The Beachie Creek and Lionshead Fires burning through Santiam Canyon have scorched more than 200,000 acres. As of late Tuesday, the Lionshead fire was 31% contained, according to Inciweb. The Holiday Farm Fire has grown to 37,000 acres in a day, spurring many evacuations.
Dozens of other wildfires are raging across Oregon, spurring evacuations in many communities. The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Medford shared photos of “multiple wildfires” spotted in the area.
Part of the city of Medford in the southern part of the state is under evacuation orders due to a growing wildfire that’s closed a 25-mile portion of Interstate 5.
The blaze is 0% contained and other neighborhoods have been told to be ready to evacuate if needed.
State fire officials told FOX12 on Tuesday they could not say if anyone has died from the blazes or how many have been hurt, but there have been many successful rescue missions.
A meteorologist in Colorado shared a time-lapse video on Tuesday night of the “wildfire nightmare” as it unfolded across the western part of the state.
“We do not have context for this amount of fire on the landscape,” Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday.
Those who have been forced from their homes have described having only moments to get out before the flames arrived.
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Sabrina Kent told FOX12 she helped her parents evacuate first from a blaze burning near Salem, then got her kids and husband out.
“We drove under a tree that had fallen over and there was burning limbs and it was like urgent and scary to get out,” Kent said.
The group then had to move a third time from her brother’s home as the wildfire approached.
“It was like scary, I mean the whole hill was on fire and we could see a crack in the neighbor’s barn door and the road to get out there was fire on the sides of it,” she said.
At least two towns have seen major damage from the blazes. Video from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office shows flames sweeping through Mill City.
Several structures can be seen burning in the video.
Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron told the Statesman Journal that a “fire storm” had hit areas north of the Santiam River.
Downtown Talent, Ore. appeared to also sustain major damage as buildings were seen burning.
A major evacuation center has been set up at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem as towns throughout the state have been threatened. Red Cross spokesman Chad Carter told the Associated Press that 600 evacuees had checked in by early Tuesday afternoon to the site, one of at least 10 fire evacuation centers in Oregon set up by the Red Cross.
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The Oregon Department of Corrections said late Tuesday it evacuated 1,450 inmates from three prisons because of threats from wildfires.
Besides the threat of the flames, the fires are also turning the sky red in many portions of the state due to the thick smoke being generated, impacting air quality.
A photo from noon on Tuesday in Salem showed the sky looking “straight apocalyptic,” one person shared on Twitter.
Several Oregon school districts postponed the first day of school on Tuesday due to power outages and emergency evacuations, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
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The weather pattern that’s fanned the flames will remain a problem across the region.
Red flag warnings stretch through western Oregon on Wednesday as gusty winds remain in the area.
“The worst of the winds are behind us, however, there is still plenty of wind to come Wednesday,” the NWS office in Portland tweeted. “Humidity remains low and this combination will challenge firefighting efforts through at least Wednesday evening.”
While the winds will calm down by Thursday, there’s no major relief in the forecast for this area in the short term.
Fox News’ Janice Dean and the Associated Press contributed to this report.