FILE — Marion County evacuee shelter

Volunteers help sort donations of food at the Oregon State Fair and Exposition Center in Salem, Oregon on Friday, September 11, 2020.

(The Center Square) — Nearly one out of 10 Oregonians are facing some level of evacuation orders while another 40,000 have had to leave their homes due to wildfires raging across the state, Gov. Kate Brown said during a Friday press briefing.

Oregon, a state of roughly 4.2 million people, has three levels of evacuation: Level 1 "Be Ready"; Level 2 "Be Set"; and Level 3 "Go Now."


Brown did have some good news to share Friday as weather conditions begin improve ahead of a tough weekend for fire crews.

"The weather system fueling these fires over the past few days has finally broken down," Brown said. "We anticipate cooler air and moisture coming in the next few days, which is really good news."

Wildfires that began over Labor Day weekend have burned more than a million acres of land by Friday, Brown said.

Oregon's Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Doug Grafe said on Friday that if weather continues to look favorable, fire crews may begin fighting the state's major fires in earnest and transition away from evacuation assistance.

Western ocean winds are expected to bring cooler, wetter conditions, Grafe said, and the conditions will improve next week.

Brown reiterated her warning on Wednesday that Oregon wildfires could incur enormous human costs.

She added that dozens of people are being reported missing in Lane, Marion, and Jackson counties. The state's wildfire death total has now reached five on Friday, Brown said.

Clackamas County

Nearly all parts of Clackamas County have been issued a Level 3 "Go Now!" evacuation order as fires rage.

Clackamas Fire District tweeted on late Wednesday afternoon that it will be temporarily abandoning the five fires it is fighting throughout the county as part of what it described as a "tactical pause." It claimed this is being done to help more evacuees escape the area.

During a press briefing on Thursday, Clackamas County officials worried that the five fires are likely set to merge into one larger fire which will require more personnel to combat successfully.

Multnomah County

On Thursday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued an emergency declaration freeing up financial resources from the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management to aid nearby counties in fighting ongoing wildfires.

In addition, the declaration creates evacuation zones in Portland and relocates local homeless individuals to "safer areas."

By Friday, Portland's air quality ranked as the worst in the world for a major city ahead of Seattle according to IQAir.

No evacuation orders have been issued in Multnomah County as of Friday.

Infrastructure delays

The Oregon Department of Transportation has announced that it is pausing the I-5 Interstate Bridge Trunnion Replacement Project on hold so evacuees can cross the Columbia River between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington as easily as possible.

The $13 million project would have closed the northbound span of the bridge on Saturday for at least nine days to repair the lift mechanism in the south tower of the 103-year-old structure. 

"ODOT and our many partners have put a lot of work into this project over the last few years and it absolutely needs to get done," said ODOT Portland Manager Rian Windsheimer. "But this closure would have created additional congestion and right now we need to keep the highways moving for evacuees and emergency responders."

Marion County

As of Friday morning, the state's Santiam Fire in Marion County, which is comprised of the 182,000 Beachie Creek Fire and the 105,000 acre Lionshead Fire, is still uncontrolled, the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) reported.

Just four days prior, the Beachie Creek Fire was burning 476 acres just north of the town of Detroit. It has 487 personnel fighting it.

Most of Marion County, including Silverton, Mollala, and Stayton, have active evacuation orders of Level 2 and 3. The state capitol of Salem has not issued any evacuation orders as of Friday.

Marion County's air quality as of Friday ranked "Hazardous" according to the Environment Protection Bureau's AirNow Index as opposed to "Beyond index" during the past several days.

Holiday Farm Fire

The Holiday Farm Fire that is creeping towards Eugene and Springfield to the east has 425 personnel fighting it, NICC reported. The fire has grown to 156,000 acres and remains zero percent contained with 425 personnel fighting it.

County officials reported that area winds have died down to 10 miles per hour in the last day, helping with efforts, but Level 1 "Get Ready" evacuation orders are now in effect just east of Springfield.

Executive Actions

President Donald Trump officially recognized Oregon and Washington's declared states of emergencies on Thursday. The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will provide up to 75 percent of emergency relief costs.

It is unclear whether federal assistance will also include placing more boots on the ground to combat the burning wildfires going forward.

Oregon Housing

As scores of evacuees flee to cities like Salem in the west and Medford to the south, motels such as Salem's Capital Inn and Suites have been accused by people in the area of hiking prices.

On its website on Friday, Capital Inn listed rooms for $60. An employee confirmed Friday that 40 rooms were vacant and going for as much as $140.

This follows an executive order issued by Gov. Brown earlier this week banning businesses from engaging in price gouging.

Similar complaints have been directed at Wilsonville's Best Western Parkway Inn by people claiming prices had jumped from $90 to as much as $175 without warning.

A Best Western representative said on Friday that there were 20 rooms available for $109. They said no price increases had occurred earlier in the week.

Dousing rumors

Meanwhile, officials across Oregon have attempted to fight recent conspiracy theories related to anti-fascist and far-right groups setting the wildfires burning throughout th estate.

Officials from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office wrote in a post that the conspiracies are false.

“Remember when we said rumors make this already difficult incident even harder?" the post read. "Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON.”

The FBI Bureau of Portland also issued a statement on social media concerning similar conspiracies.

"FBI Portland and local law enforcement agencies have been receiving reports that extremists are responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon," the post read. "With our state and local partners, the FBI has investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue."

The Ashland Police Department are investigating one fire as arson. No suspect has been named as of Friday.

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.