FILE — Oregon state capitol smoky skies

An afternoon yellow haze hangs over the skies above the Oregon state capitol building in Salem, Oregon on Wednesday, September 9, 2020. Poor air quality throughout the region in early September was brought on by smoke blowing in from nearby wildfires in the state and as far north as Washington. 

(The Center Square) — Wildfires raging across Oregon and Washington have now cost several lives as thousands more are still being evacuated to safer districts, state officials reported on Thursday.

FEMA announced late on Wednesday that federal aid has been approved for both states hours after it was requested by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

In western Oregon, FEMA will pay for the Holiday Farm Fire in Lane County, the Powerline Fire in Washington County, and the Echo Mountain Complex Fire in Lincoln County.

In Southern Oregon, FEMA will also pay for the Almeda and Glendower Fires in Jackson County. The two fires have destroyed most of the towns of Phoenix and Talent and thousands are now evacuated to Medford where another fire, the Table Overpass Fire, started on Wednesday afternoon.

In western Washington, FEMA will pay for fighting the Bordeaux Road Fire in Thurston County and the Sumner Grade Fire burning in Pierce County. It previously released funds for the Evans Canyon Fire in Central Washington earlier this month.

Earlier this week, Brown said that 300,000 acres have burned so far in Oregon over the past week while Inslee said 330,000 acres were burned just on Monday alone.

State of Oregon wildfires

The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) reported that so far this year, the state has seen 627 fires presumed to have been caused by people and 150 fires caused by lightning strikes.

At least 13 largely uncontrolled major wildfires are burning through Oregon with hundreds of other smaller ones. No rain is forecast in the western side of the state until Monday.

Poor air quality ranging from “Unhealthy” to “Hazardous” persists in western Oregon as of Thursday morning, according to the AirNow Index. Smokey skies hang over Salem and Eugene and even those as far north as Portland or as far west as Newport on coast.

Multnomah County has said they are “closely monitoring” wildfires in Clackamas County to the south as of Thursday morning. No evacuations in Multnomah County have been issued.

Santiam Fire

The 158,000 acre Beachie Creek Fire began on August 16 near Santiam Canyon and grew significantly after high winds and dry temperatures fueled it over the past week.

The Beachie Creek Fire has merged with several other blazes, including the 120,000 acre Riverside Fire to the north and the 105,000 acre Lionshead Fire to the east, to form what is now called the “Santiam Fire.”

Neither the Beachie Creek Fire or the Riverside Fire are contained. The Lionshead Fire is contained at just 5 percent.

Level 3 evacuation orders of “Go Now!” have been issued throughout Marion county which includes the cities of Detroit, Gates, Lyons, and Mill City. Level 2 “Get Set” orders have been issued to cities which include Silverton, Mt. Angel, and Stayton.

The Santiam Fire is now less than a half-hour away from the Oregon state capitol of Salem, home to more than 185,000 people. Salem has not issued any evacuation notices.

Clackamas County Fires

Clackamas County is in a declared state of emergency since September 8 allowing them to barricade roads, evacuate residents, and redirect funds.

Five wildfires are burning through Clackamas, the biggest of which is the 112,000 acre Hillockburn Fire, currently affecting 300 acres in the county.

The Lionshead Fire that began around August 16 is at 105,000 acres as of Thursday morning and 5 percent contained.

The county has issued Level 3 evacuation orders to cities including Eagle, Monitor, Estacada, and Marquam.

Holiday Farm Fire

The Holiday Farm Fire in Lane County is at more than 144,000 acres and zero percent contained, the ODF reported on Thursday morning.

Approximately 207 personnel are fighting the fire and setting up fire lines. No injuries have been reported. The fire threatens 17,732 buildings and has destroyed hundreds more. All three levels of evacuation are in effect in Lane county.

The fire is now minutes away from Eugene and Springfield, whose populations total more than 172,000 people combined.

Indian Creek Fire

In Eastern Oregon, the Indian Creek Fire in Malheur County is now 95 percent contained after growing to more than 48,000 acres as of Wednesday night.

Oregon wildfire estimated costs

The 12,500 acre 242 Fire northwest of Chiloquin in Klamath County that began on September 7 has a price tag of at least $1.2 million according to ODF estimates.

As of Thursday morning, 215 firefighters are combating the fire with 24 fire engines and three helicopters. It is 5 percent contained.

Wildfire deaths in Oregon

Oregon officials have reported some of the first deaths from statewide wildfires on Wednesday.

Sheriff Joe Kast said Wednesday afternoon that search and rescue teams confirmed 13-year-old Wyatt Tofte and his grandmother, 71-year-old Peggy Mosso, died in their car attempting to get away from the state’s Santiam Fire in eastern Marion County.

Tofte was also the great grandson of the greater of the beloved Enchanted Forest amusement park near Salem, Oregon, according to a Facebook post by the park.

According to a report by the Salem Statesman Journal, Tofte’s mother is in critical condition after surviving the fire.

Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler in southern Oregon confirmed on Wednesday that at least on person was found dead in a wildfire area.

State of Washington wildfires

At least 14 large fires are burning through Washington on Thursday, according to the National Wildfire Reporting Group.

Evans Canyon Fire

The Evans Canyon Fire encompassing Kittitas and Yakima counties has grown to 75,000 acres and was 80 percent contained on Wednesday. It drew 361 personnel "mop-up" patrol according to NWRG. Level 2 and 3 evacuations orders were still in effect for the area on Thursday.

Cold Springs Fire

The 172,000 acre Cold Springs Fire near the city of Omak is 10 percent contained since Thursday morning. Evacuation levels 2 and 3 are in effect in the area and 275 personnel are fighting the fire, NWRG data shows.

Pearl Hill Fire

At 174,000 acres, the Pearl Hill Fire near Brideport and Mansfield is 41 percent contained as of Wednesday with 136 personnel assigned to it. Level 3 evacuation orders are still active, NWRG reported.

Wildfire deaths in Washington

The Cold Springs Fire has killed at least one person in Washington, according to a KIRO-TV report on Wednesday. A 1-year-old child died of burns in Okanogan County while his parents are being treated for severe burns in Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

“Firefighters are fighting a gallant fight, but there are little resources to be found in the air or on the ground,” said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz on Wednesday in the devastated town of Malden. “This is why this state has to amen this day an absolute priority to never let something like this happen again.”


In the past several days, authorities in both states have made several arrests related to arson.

Last week, a man was arrested on a first-degree arson charge for setting a host of fires which formed the mostly contained Sweet Creek Fire west of Eugene,  causing evacuations across western Lane County.

Oregon authorities are further investigating the state's Almeda Fire as an arson, the Ashland Police Chief Tighe O'Meara announced on Thursday. The fire has destroyed more than 600 homes and burned more than 3,000 acres.

The vast majority of fires burning throughout Oregon and Washington have not been investigated as arson cases this year.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.