Oregon on 'high alert' as wildfires destroy hundreds of homes; governor issues dire warning
'The next several days are going to be extremely difficult,' the state's governor said
Oregon could see the greatest loss of human life and property from wildfires in state history.
That was the dire warning Wednesday from Gov. Kate Brown as dozens of blazes raged across the state's forested valleys and coastline.
The massive fires have already destroyed hundreds of homes and prompted mass evacuations, according to reports.
As many as 3,000 firefighters in Oregon were battling 48 blazes that have scorched roughly 500 square miles across the state, OregonLive.com reported.
OREGON WILDFIRES: AT LEAST 3 FOUND DEAD AS FIRES RAGE ACROSS STATE; 3 REPORTED DEAD IN CALIFORNIA
“Everyone must be on high alert,” she said. “The next several days are going to be extremely difficult.”
Fires were reported from the top of the state to the California border. They caused highway closures and smoky skies as firefighters struggled to contain flames that were stimulated by 50 mph wind gusts. The small towns of Phoenix and Talent in southern Oregon were reported to be severely damaged.
Fires erupted along Interstate 5 in Oregon, impacting towns and forcing a shutdown of the main freeway. The blazes were said to be affecting cities and towns along the interstate from Medford to Portland. Hundreds of thousands of acres were also on fire near Mount Hood, in southern Oregon.
A post office in Gates, Ore., was completely destroyed along with several other buildings in the Santiam Canyon community, according to the Albany Democrat-Herald.
Oregon Deputy State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said the extent of damage was unclear because so many fire zones were too dangerous to examine.
“Quite frankly, we are not even able to get into these areas," she said.
The Pacific Northwest typically has a cool, wet climate that causes the area to rarely experience such intense fire activity. Officials said the combination of dry weather and high winds in Oregon helped the blazes grow quickly.
Brown added that the state was essentially a tinderbox, with its most extreme fire conditions in three decades, according to OregonLive.com.
On Wednesday, the governor urged residents to refrain from call 911 to report smoke because the "system is being inundated with smoke calls."
A mandatory evacuation was ordered in the northern half of Lincoln City, a town of about 10,000 people on the state's coast.
Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, urged residents who were not under evacuation orders to stay home and off the roads to allow emergency personnel easier transport to and from the fires, according to OregonLive.com.
CALIFORNIA AND OREGON WILDFIRES SPOTTED FROM SPACE IN INCREDIBLE SATELLITE PICTURES
Brown advised that evacuees should "find loved ones and/or mark yourself as safe through the Red Cross Safe & Well site or Red Cross Emergency App."
Oregon authorities found at least three people dead Wednesday, including a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother who perished in the family car trying to escape flames, reports said.
On Tuesday, the governor declared a state of emergency in several affected communities, as the Beachie Creek, Lionshead, and Holiday Farm fires raged.
Firefighters hope to turn things around on Thursday as winds are expected to revert to their normal pattern of blowing in from the Pacific Ocean, said Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry.
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“Today marks the last day where we are witnessing this historic weather event,” Grafe said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report