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Oregon fire officials say it might be days before they can begin trying to suppress the blazes.

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON ARMY NATIONAL GUARD - Oregon Army National Guard Blackhawk Pilot in command, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joe Zeiner, left, approaches a giant smoke plume in flight, while swooping in to drop water over a fire in Eastern Oregon.

Thousands of Oregonians were evacuated from their homes Tuesday, Sept. 8, as conditions led to a spate of surging wildfires state officials said is unprecedented in modern memory.

With strong westward gusts pushing established fires over the crest of the Cascades, and setting off still more fires, officials said they were focused on protecting lives and property, and that suppressing the blazes consuming hundreds of thousands of acres would have to wait.

"Our number one priority is evacuation and basic life safety," said Mariana Ruiz-Temple, chief deputy state fire marshal. "This wind event does not give us the opportunity to really get in there and fight fire how we might fight fire in previous events."

The gusts that began Monday gave new life to fires that had burned in central and eastern Marion County for weeks, eventually creating what officials are calling the Santiam Fire. It swept quickly down the canyons west of the cascades on Monday and Tuesday prompting evacuations in a swath of communities east of Salem.

Meanwhile intensifying fires east of Eugene, near Ashland and along the coast also demanded attention and prompted evacuation orders in towns and state prisons.

Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of Pamplin Media Group.

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