SALEM, Ore. — The fire storm Oregon is experiencing is like nothing the state has seen in the past 120 years, officials said Wednesday.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown said, “hundreds of homes have been lost”.
From the air, you get a glimpse of what is happening, of the ferocious fires pushed by raging winds and helped by low humidity as the flames raced through the forests and brush lands of Oregon.
The largest, the Santiam Fire, east of Salem, grew by 12 miles Tuesday.
The Riverside in Clackamas county grew by 17 miles and consumed 22 structures.
What we cannot see is the grim reality on the ground. State leaders fear many were not able to escape the firestorms.
Check the latest wildfire map
“Let me start by bracing all of you for some very difficult news,” Gov. Brown said.
“We are facing a statewide fire emergency. In the last 24 hours, Oregon has experienced unprecedented fire. With significant damage and devastating consequences across the entire state,” she said.
Brown warned that in Lane county– the towns of Blue River and Vida might be destroyed, as well as Phoenix and Talent in Southern Oregon and Detroit in Central Oregon.
“I want to be up front in saying that 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 our state’s history,” Governor Brown said.
Recovery teams are gathering to begin searches where the fire has passed through. The governor could not offer any numbers for people who are missing or dead.
As of 5:30 a.m. Friday, 38 active wildfires had burned more than 800,000 acres throughout the state, according to the OEM Fires and Hotspots Dashboard.
Most of the big ones erupted over the past weekend or on labor day. For some context consider this. A mega fire is one that covers 100-thousand acres or more.
Oregon saw 6 mega fire from 1900 until 1999, according to Jim Gersbach from the Oregon Department of Forestry.
From 2000 until now there have been 11. In all those years there were never more than two per year. Now, according to Gersbach, there are four burning at once.
That’s why this is so bad.
“We are absolutely in unprecedented times. This event has evolved over the last 72 hours – driven by a cold front on top of an east wind event. The cold front brings impressively high winds and then the east wind event sustains those winds,” said Doug Grafe, Chief of Fire Protection for the Oregon Department of Forestry.
He also said those winds are driving the fires down the west slopes of the Cascade range, raining fire storms on small communities and rural homes.