PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said she expects the wildfires that have devastated the state the past few days will bring a great deal of loss, both in structures and in human lives.
"It could be the greatest loss in human lives and property in our state's history," Brown said. "My heart goes out to all the families impacted by this devastating event."
Brown said for the first time, she has invoked the Fire Conflagration Act for the entire state, which gives the state fire marshal the authority to direct resources wherever they're needed. She also directed the state office of emergency management to request a federal emergency declaration, which would free up more resources from the federal government.
Hundreds of homes have been lost and there have been thousands of evacuations across the state as fires, fueled by strong winds and hot, dry conditions, have broken out everywhere in Oregon.
Brown said the communities of Detroit in Marion County; Blue River and Vida in Lane County; and Phoenix and Talent in Jackson County are "substantially destroyed."
There are currently five incident management teams spread across the state, with more than 3,000 firefighters on the ground battling 35 wildfires.
Brown said more than 300,000 acres are burning across the state, which is the equivalent of almost 500 square miles.
The top priority is saving lives and the state's strategy is focusing on life safety, evacuations and protecting structures when possible, Brown said.
"The next several days are going to be extremely difficult," the governor said. "Please pay attention to directions from firefighters, local officials and emergency responders. If you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately."
The largest and most devastating fires in the state are the Santiam Fire in Marion County's Santiam Canyon, the Lionshead Fire burning just west of Warm Springs, the Holiday Farm Fire burning in rural Lane County near McKenzie Bridge, and the Almeda Fire and Obenchain Fire in Jackson County.
The Santiam and Lionshead fires have burned more than 200,000 acres; the Holiday Farm Fire has grown from 37,000 acres to more than 100,000 acres; and the Almeda and Obenchain fires have burned more than 15,000 acres.
Doug Graf, the chief of fire protection for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said they've had very limited success fighting the largest fires in the state. But he said Wednesday should be the final day of this historic weather event, where a devastating combination of a cold front, east wind event and critically hot, dry weather has fueled the fires. Graff said the wind should subside and cooler temperatures should arrive Thursday and last through the weekend.
"[Thursday] begins a hopeful change in weather conditions," Graf said. "It gives us a chance to shift from a singular focus on life safety to be more aggressive and start reestablishing fire lines."