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Gov. Brown declares statewide conflagration; several towns ‘substantially destroyed’

Lists Detroit, Blue River, Vida, Phoenix Talent in 'devastating' losses

SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Gov. Kate Brown declared her first-ever statewide conflagration Wednesday amid an unprecedented number of destructive wildfires across Oregon that she and fire officials advised have resulted in major loss in both lives and property that have yet to be fully counted.

“Over the last 24 hours, Oregon has experienced unprecedented fire, with significant damage and devastating consequences,” Brown said. “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 wildfire in the state’s history.”

Brown said she’d been informed by officials that the cities of Detroit, Blue River and Vida in the Santiam and KcKenzie canyons and the southern Oregon towns of Phoenix and Talent “are substantially destroyed.”

“Hundreds of homes have been lost, and we continue to carry out mass evacuations across the entire state,” the governor said. “Fortunately, numerous Oregonians have been saved from harm’s way, but many more Oregonians will need to evacuate homes in the coming hours.”

Brown said (prepared remarks here) that five incident management teams are fighting 35 wildfires across the state, while many more smaller wildfires continue to erupt across the state, adding to the crisis.

“Winds continue to feed these fires” and push them into new areas, the governor said, noting that “more than 300,000 acres are burning across the state, equivalent to over 500 square miles."

Even in areas not hit by fires yet, officials report the worst fire conditions in three decades, with dry air, dry brush and hot winds. “That means everyone must be on high alert,” she said, noting her first statewide declaration of conflagration gives the state fire marshal the power to direct and deploy resources anywhere that’s needed.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management also is requesting a federal emergency declaration.

“Our No. 1 priority right now is saving lives,” she said. “This is truly an all hands on deck, for all of Oregon. The next few days are going to be extremely difficult.”

“If you hear just one thing from me today, hear this: Please pay attention to direction from fire officials and emergency responders. If you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately.”

"You may not get a second chance," she added later.

Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, echoed Brown’s remarks: “We absolutely are in unprecedented times,” as fires were fueled by an east wind event, the winds of a cold front and 72 hours of dangerous weather conditions that he said should ease in coming days and move to a cooler, marine air system.

Mariana Ruiz-Temple, chief state deputy fire marshal, said the state is working to determine how many people have died or remain missing and said while there had been “significant saves in the last 24 hours,” there are still some areas that crews cannot get into safely.

Brown noted in the midst of the news conference that parts of Lincoln County had been placed under Level 3 evacuation due to an active wildfire.

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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Barney Lerten

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