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Santiam Canyon pummeled by wildfire; Mill City homes, businesses lost, mayor says

It was so dark, it looked like 'midnight on a moonless night'

REDMOND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Imagine driving through blood orange skies, as you quickly evacuate a home you may never return to.

Many Oregonians are going through this exact experience as fires across Santiam Canyon rapidly spread, one of many wildfires around the region threatening or even destroying homes and businesses.

The small town of Mill City has been one of the hardest hit-areas. Many reports over social media claimed that the entire town had burned to the ground.

NewsChannel 21 spoke late Tuesday with Mill City Mayor Tim Kirsch, who didn't evacuate until 2:30 a.m.

"Visually, you would've thought it was midnight on a moonless night," Kirsch said. "It was dark and black. The ash in the air was so thick, you could cut it with a knife."

Kirsch said the fire was burning on both sides of state Highway 22 as he left. He said the flames were so hot, he could feel the heat inside his car.

Kirsch is currently working with both Linn and Marion counties to update evacuees. He said the federal government has also reached out to offer assistance.

The damage is still being investigated by county and fire officials, but Kirsch said he believes the center of the city is unscathed. He said major businesses on the outskirts of town were destroyed.

Dozens of homes along the Santiam River also have been lost.

"It's tragic, and I anticipate it to take years for us to rebuild," Kirsch said.

With evacuees looking for answers and a helping hand during such desperate times, the American Red Cross has stepped in.

A temporary evacuation point has been set up at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds near the Redmond Airport, one of several related to the fire, including one at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

"Our goal is when they do come here, that we make arrangements for them to stay in nearby hotels," said Nadine McCrindle, executive director for the Red Cross in Central and Eastern Oregon. "We want them to try and relax a little bit while they're waiting for news."

McCrindle said more than 80 evacuees have been set up at the Super 8 Motel in Redmond.

She said they will continue to support those in need for as long as necessary.

Animals are also being sheltered at the fairgrounds until further notice.

Despite the efforts of first responders all across Oregon, the destruction of towns like Mill City serve as a reminder of the dark reality facing the state.

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Alec Nolan

Alec Nolan is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Alec here.

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