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‘The people are resilient’: Marion Co. officials give wildfire update

‘The people are resilient’: Marion Co. officials give wildfire update

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After more than a week of devastation and uncertainty due to multiple wildfires in the area, progress is being made on the raging wildfires in Marion County.

Marion County officials held a press conference Wednesday to discuss the firefighting efforts along with the COVID-19 response. Updates from the press conference below:

Sheriff Joe Kast spoke at the briefing to layout the current evacuation levels, which are unchanged. He said the number of deaths resulting from the fires remains at four, while one known person is missing.

At this time, it is difficult to evaluate the full scope of damage done by the fires. Officials described the damage in the Santiam Canyon — specifically in Detroit — as extensive.

They also discussed that 10,000-80,000 trees need to be removed in order for roads to be safe once again. Because of this, residents are urged to stay away for the time being.

“We’ll do everything we can,” Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano said. “We want to get people back, get roadblocks out of the way. We want to be pragmatic, have common sense — I don’t care if they’re in tents, in mobile homes — I may be premature in saying this, but perhaps people can get ready. I talked to the governor, at least told her my plans on Saturday, and I think we can agree that we want to get people back as soon as possible — and that’s our pledge.”

Officials also discussed the Presidential Major Disaster Declaration that was granted for Oregon Tuesday, which provides a wider range of federal assistance programs for people and infrastructure upgrades.

Commissioner Kevin Cameron said he believes there are about 250 homes gone in Detroit, alone. However, that number has not been confirmed.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps will slow down the local water flow in order to buy more time to move boats from Detroit. Officials say Detroit has lost its water system and crews are working on recovering it.

“The people are resilient and they will come back stronger than ever,” Commissioner Kevin Cameron said.

One important public health message given during the meeting was that many properties in the Santiam Canyon have their own septic systems. Those systems are likely to be compromised upon residents’ return.

Marion County health officials say that COVID-19 testing has been affected due to the smoke in the area. They believe the next step is to look for ways to administer safe testing at an indoor facility while air quality remains hazardous.

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As the Beachie Creek Fire swallows nearly 200,000 acres of land, thousands of homes and businesses remain under Level 3 evacuation notices in Marion County. However, crews have now contained up to 20% of the blaze.

Numerous evacuees remain at the Oregon State Fairgrounds, and for many, it’s been a grueling wait to find out if they still have a home.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said evacuation levels for portions of the Mehama and Lyons communities were downgraded to Level 2. The current evacuations are as follows:

LEVEL 3 “GO”: Detroit, Idanha, Breitenbush, Mill City, Gates, North Fork Road north of Highway 22, Highway 22 east of Highway 226.

LEVEL 2 “BE SET”: Lyons, Mehama west of Highway 226, Fernridge Road west of Shellburg Creek Road to Basil Hill, Scotts Mills, Crooked Finger Rd and Moss Lane

LEVEL 1 “GET READY”: Areas east of Meridian Rd, Davis Creek and Victor Point south to the Marion County line

Also, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office identified 2 Lyons residents who died in the fires: Cathy Cook, 71, and 41-year-old Justin Cook. They were found near their property in the 32000 block of North Fork Lane in Lyons, officials said.

Marion County Evacuation Map

Beachie Creek Fire

The Beachie Creek Fire has devoured 190,911 acres about six miles north of Detroit. However, the growth in acreage from earlier in the week is not due to any fire spread — but because an aerial assessment gave a more accurate mapping.

Firefighters tackling the Beachie Creek Fire worked to further secure its perimeter Tuesday while the neighboring Riverside Fire remained about a mile away.

Officials said the combination of winds, dry forests, and terrain means it is still possible for the two fires to merge — however, they say based on current weather, a future merger would not likely result in “dynamic fire behavior as seen last week.”

The Beachie Creek Fire has been burning since August 16, several weeks before the wave of multiple wildfires swallowed Oregon over the Labor Day weekend. The fire has claimed the lives of at least four people with 10 people still missing.

The Lionshead Fire

The Lionshead Fire continues to grow and is now listed at 168,097 acres with 10% containment.

Firefighters will continue strengthening containment lines to the east of the lightning-caused fire. Officials say Tuesday was a very successful and active day around the perimeter.

They will reevaluate evacuation levels as the containment further progresses.

Due to the danger from falling trees, rock slides, and continued roadway hazards along Highway 22, access to the Level 3 evacuation zone for animal removal and feeding has been suspended. 

Due to roadway hazards such as falling trees and rock slides along Highway 22, access to the Level 3 evacuation zone for animal removal and feeding has been suspended. Officials met on Monday to discuss how residents could safely feed and care for their animals, but no plan has been finalized.

While law enforcement is still limiting access to the Santiam Canyon, Detroit and Idanha residents can request a check on their property by calling 503.798.6823 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. any day of the week. They should provide the following information when they call: Name, address, phone number, information about anyone missing from the location, and any animals at the location.

Marion County evacuations and resources
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To report a family member missing, please contact the non-emergency dispatch at 503.588.5032. As of Sunday morning, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said they have five people who have been reported as missing.

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