Fire battles remain uphill as region awaits rainfall
Lingering heavy smoke — which made air in the region among the least healthy in the world over the weekend — is Central Oregon's primary connection to the destructive wildfires hammering Oregon.
Fires have destroyed more than 903,000 acres in the state, ravaging communities from Talent and Phoenix in Southern Oregon to the mountain towns of Blue River and Detroit, Gates and Lyons.
However, cooler weather that has greeted this week, along with the potential of some rain, gives firefighters some reprieve.
The various fires prompted tens of thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes late last week. But the majority of evacuation orders are being lifted and many Oregonians are returning home on Monday, Sept. 14.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, the city of Molalla was downgraded to a Level 2 evacuation alert — Levels 1, 2 and 3, are, essentially, ready, set and go.
The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office announced at 7:05 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13 that it reduced the evacuation level from Level 3 (red) to Level 2 (yellow), effective immediately. The downgraded evacuation notice also applies to some areas north and southwest of the city, including Mulino.
Additionally, urban areas like Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Clackamas, Happy Valley, Gladstone, Milwaukie and Tualatin have all been removed from Level 1.
As of Monday, air quality in throughout much of the state — certainly in Central Oregon — remained hazardous and people are advised to stay indoors.
Fires have killed at least 28 people in the three contiguous West Coast states since mid-August, according to CNN, including 19 in California, many of them in the past few days. As of Monday, the state has indicated eight people had died in Oregon's fire. However, rising death tolls are expected. Oregon State Police established a "mobile morge" this week in Linn County, to enable rapid DNA test to determine identities of burn victims.
Although temperatures have dropped a bit and the winds have died down after a Labor Day windstorm whipped up wildfires last week, conditions remain dry and fire risk is still elevated.
Even as dry, hot weather that fueled the fires earlier in the week appears to be moderating across much of Oregon, wildfire smoke lingers on, keeping hazardous air and posting breathing risks for vulnerable people.
Air quality levels are expected to start clearing as weather conditions improve this week.
But fire conditions remain explosive and if less rain that is expected falls, then the fires could continue to expand.
Southern Oregon faced an ongoing fire threat as forecasts called for high winds that could fuel and spread current conflagrations.
In the latest updates, officials said the Beachie Creek fire east of Salem and the Riverside fire east of the Portland metro area remain about one mile apart.
"Despite the rumors, a merger of the two fires is not imminent," the update said.
Officials said it was still possible the fires could come together, but, based on the current weather patterns, the merger "would not result in dynamic fire behavior" as seen in the last week.
While firefighters have made progress, nearly all the fires remain far from containment. They hoped the rain, expected to be heavy at times this week, will allow for significant headway in knocking these fires back.
Brattain fire - The town of Paisley was evacuated Saturday as the Brattain fire was raging in Lake County. It was reported at 34,000 acres Tuesday afternoon.
Holiday Farm fire - The blaze, which razed Blue River as it swept along Oregon Highway 126, has charred 166,500 acres. It was only 6% contained Monday.
Beachie Creek fire - The horrific Marion County fire consumed communities along Oregon Highway 22, including Lyons, Gates and Detroit. It was reported at 190,000 acres on Tusday afternoon. Search and rescue crews were on scene at the burned-out areas. All but one of the 50 people who had been reported missing have been accounted for. However, four people were killed in the blaze.
The Lionshead fire - This blaze, east of the Beachie Creek, started on the Warm Springs Reservation on Aug. 16, via a thunderstorm, and pushed west last week, merging with the Beachie Creek fire. It was put at about 168,000 acres on Tuesday.
Riverside fire - This blaze prompted evacuations in the Estacada area. It was reported at near 135,000 acres Tuesday.
Almeda fire - This small but deadly fire — 3,500 acres but four deaths — ripped through the Talent and Phoenix areas. It was at 70% containment Monday.
The Slater fire - Burning in Josephine County near the California border, the Slater fire had moved to more than 136,000 acres as of Tuesday and had prompted evacuations, including closing the Oregon Caves National Monument.
Archie Creek fire - The blaze, burning in Douglas County east of Roseburg, has consumed 109 homes and 121,379 acres.
Echo Mountain Complex - The fire that led to evacuations in Lincoln City brought wildfire to the Oregon Coast. It was only 2,552 acres but was still only about 35% contained on Tuesday.
Several Pamplin Media reporters contributed to this report. KOIN 6 News and Oregon Public Broadcasting contributed to this article. Both are news partners of Pamplin Media Group.
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