Wildfires have burned over 800 square miles in Oregon

Four fires east of Interstate 5, from Portland south to Eugene, are each larger than 100,000 acres.

map fires Oregon Portland
Map showing heat detected by satellites within the last 24 hours on fires in the Portland-Eugene area, Sept 10, 2020.

At least 50 fires have burned over 800 square miles in Oregon, and again on Wednesday, dry, breezy weather kept them growing.  Governor Kate Brown said that during this fire siege the state will likely experience the greatest loss of property and lives from wildfires in its history. This a result of the confluence of several factors, including drought and lightning, along with hot, dry, and very windy weather.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management has created an interactive website to help provide information about evacuations statewide.

The Beachie Creek Fire 17 miles east of Salem started August 16. On September 6 it was 469 acres but the historic wind storm the next day caused it to grow overnight to 131,000 acres. On September 9 it was mapped at 182,000 acres and was 19 miles east of Salem. Fire personnel had to evacuate their incident command post after electrical lines and transformers were destroyed during the wind event. An update from the incident management team on September 9 said “mass evacuations are being planned”. The east side of the Beachie Creek Fire has merged with the Lionshead Fire. The fire organization has a Facebook page with evacuation information.

The 109,223-acre Lionshead Fire started August 16 on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation 14 miles west of the Warm Springs community and has spread to the Willamette National Forest merging into the east side of the Beachie Creek Fire. It is actively growing on the west side of the Cascades. Long range spotting contributed to the fire spreading for 12 miles reaching areas near Breitenbush and Detroit Lake. The fire also crossed highway 22 in multiple places.  More information can be found on Facebook.

The Holiday Farm Fire, also known as the McKenzie Fire, has burned 144,694 acres about 14 miles east of Eugene. Evacuations are in effect; the Lane County government and  Linn County Sheriff’s office has more information. On Wednesday fire behavior and weather conditions were still treacherous and kept firefighters from accessing many areas, but they were able to protect some structures by burning out around them to remove flammable vegetation. Winds on Thursday are expected to shift and begin blowing out of the west and relative humidity is expected to be in the low teens.  These weather conditions may contribute to another day of very active fire behavior.

The 120,000-acre Riverside Fire is southeast of both Oregon City and Portland. Most of the spread in the last 24 hours was on the southwest and northwest sides. The blaze moved four miles down the Clackamas River corridor towards the communities of Estacada and Springwater. Crews worked overnight to continue point protection efforts on homes and other critical infrastructure in that area and along Highway 211. On Thursday firefighters hope to take advantage of predicted lighter winds during the afternoon to conduct critical air operations. However, changing wind directions throughout the day could spur additional fire growth in multiple directions. Thursday morning fire officials estimated it was approximately two air miles from the community of Estacada, Oregon. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s office has information about evacuations that are in effect.

The Echo Mountain Complex has burned 2,297 acres south and east of Otis at the intersection of Highways 101 and 18. Evacuations are in effect. It is burning on both the north and south sides of 18. The Oregon Department of Forestry reports that local firefighters and ODF personnel have been out in force around the clock on the fire lines, but outside help is very limited due to the large number of fires across the state. Matt Thomas of ODF said Wednesday there has been no containment yet, and that may not happen for an extended period of time. More information is on the ODF’s West Oregon District Facebook Page.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

23 thoughts on “Wildfires have burned over 800 square miles in Oregon”

  1. it sure seems to me at this point that years of poor management have nothing to do with how big this has gotten now. So glad I am retired but my heart breaks for everyone having to deal with it. Firefighters and residents alike Call it nature, call it an act of god, call it neglect…and in a few cases apparently…call it arson… regardless I pray some rain or snow on you all…

  2. I call it “Global Warming”. The term first appeared around 2007. People laughed at it when it was first mentioned. I believed it and have been watching it progress gradually. This year probably is the most dramatic.

    1. I call it poor building codes in places they should not be building in anyway….and neglect. I see they are planning on getting more active about clearing …but it might just be too late. I am not a climate change person…it is always changing…just depends on where you are. been with fires since 1973 so I have seen it all.

      1. To me, your comment about this fire season and clearing is like being stranded on top of a 14er during a lightning storm and having you turn to me and say, “I told you to bring a rain jacket!”.

        Well, I’m your buddy sitting here hoping not to get zapped and wondering why we’ve been sitting here in the high country watching the weather change for 40 years, never mind the rain.

        Maybe if we ever agreed that we should’ve prepared for an expected change in weather (hey does that come up in the 10’s and 18’s?) we’d be in better shape, that goes a long way beyond fuels projects.

    2. All one need do is travel down to the southern end of the Willamette valley and observe the dead and dying Doug-firs. They’re dying faster than they can be removed. Thirty years ago, this was a dark, green (and wet) area. Nowadays, it might as well be Redding.

      The old quip about “Oregonians don’t tan, they rust” is now a tragic lie.

      1. mismanagement …. don’t even start with that.
        YES the Forest Service for decades fought every fire to a draw and tried to snuff out every one and YES that built up a mega-load of fuels. But please stop with the “mismanagement” noise. Forestry and other sciences are a process, an ongoing field of learning, and criticizing forest employees for what they’ve learned is pretty arrogant. Do we beat up on the medical community for what they didn’t know 50 years ago? No we don’t.

        1. It doesn’t take a scientist to know that underbrush should be cleared. The blame is on so-called environmentalist that did not want the forest touched.

      2. Sorry Sherri, but fires don’t make 25 mile runs in a day just because there wasn’t enough forest management. The relationship of humans to this problem is complex as has been pointed out, (poor urban planning, heavy accumulation of fuel due to suppression, etc) but those don’t alone drive explosive fire growth.

        The funny thing is, I bet the north complex curb stomped a bunch of firebreaks, prescribed burn units, and logging units on its way to spotting lake oroville.

        I’d love to see research about the type of weather event that occurred and blew up all of these fires, and wether that event has happened numerous times in the past 100 years at similar times of the year. I bet you it has. It just usually isn’t so hot and dry in the PNW at this time of year.

        Again- how many fires need to go from a couple acres to 100k in a day before we stop beating this horse to death about forest management? How many acres burned in Australia this winter? How many in siberia and Brazil last year? Indonesia back in ‘15?

        Nobody has ever done any forest management of any significance in Alaska and yet we see the same explosive growth and out of season burning up there these past few decades.

        The thing is, we’ve been watching a pot of water on the stove for decades and somehow we’re surprised now that it’s reached a rolling boil. It happens fast doesn’t it? All you see is placid water for 10 minutes, and then maybe a bubble or two you’d miss if you weren’t paying attention. And then in a blink that pot is rolling.

        That’s where we are now, swimming in the pot.

      1. KARLA, you do realize you’re commenting on a story from last year, right? I’m not going to counter your Mother Nature idea, but this is a well-aged page here.

  3. Bill, please don’t encourage the amateurs with Lane County, Oregon. It’s the Holiday Farm Fire east of Eugene, up the McKenzie River. Rogue employees in Lane County re-naming a 100,00+acre fire that’s leveled a couple towns, dozens of homes, and likely killed people is a majorly unsmart move on their part. They don’t need you to help them with this.

    It’s the Holiday Farm Fire. There is no McKenzie Fire.

  4. Start dates weren’t listed for all of the fires, But if the Beachie Creek Fire is representative of all of them, the land managers have no one to blame but themselves. 469 acres in 21 days doesn’t sound like a big deal. Were they trying to suppress it? Or are they going to say it was too dangerous? Either way, their lack of suppression is what allowed it to be a problem when the winds came. Of course, there will be no accountability……

    1. @Porta, it’s more “lack of resources” than it is “lack of suppression.” The Holiday Farm Fire at 145,000 acres with multiple burned-out communities up and down the river has 200+ personnel on it today. Yesterday it was about 100. This is a fire that under normal circumstances would have 1000+ personnel on it, plus aircraft, and tomorrow it gets … wait for it … National Guard guys.
      The IMT on this fire has been extra-slammed busy the last couple days getting trapped people out of little communities that burned to the ground. It’s not lack of suppression, Porta.

      1. Totally agree with you on lack of resources. I’ve been on several fires through the years where lack of resources dramatically changed our options n strategies and tactics. And I Am sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of UTF’s for almost every fire in the country right now. But, what was the availability of resources the first couple of weeks after this fire started? I guess we would need to see the dispatch log to determine what actions were initially taken, and what resources were originally utilized. But 469 acres over the course of three weeks is not dramatic fire behavior, and I don’t think the current lack of resources correlates to the conditions that were in place when this mess started. But then again, I’m just an old man, and we all know hindsight is 20/20. I stand by my statement of nobody being held accountable, though….

        1. We had a lightning event around Aug 3 that pretty much soaked up all available resources. About the time those fires wrapped up we had another lightning event around Aug 16 worse than the first one. Somewhere between there we had yet another aircraft fatality on a fire near Mt Hood. A lot of would be available resources were already soaked up by California. Been a long summer…

        2. Porta56: But what was the availability of resources
          the first couple of weeks after this fire started?

          A: The fire started 5 days ago. It’s not a South Canyon or Granite Mountain kind of ignore-me fire. Oregon’s getting a couple hundred national guard troops (restrain your enthusiasm now) but most of the resources in Oregon have been (a) busy or (b) in California. We did this in 1987, too; it was a monster statewide lightning bust and it was the last week of July. That year also, most of Oregon’s resources were working elsewhere when the fires took off. The La Grande district, just for example, had 27 fires going, one of them staffed, and had one helicopter.

    2. Exactly they sat on this one for a month at 10 acres and had a shot crew on it! Plus at the time there was 24 available jumpers at RAC.

  5. from the New York Times:
    Facing a historic year of wildfire destruction across the West Coast, including more than three million acres consumed in California, the national emergency systems that rely on state-to-state assistance have been buckling under the strain. That has left emergency responders struggling to keep pace with fires that have destroyed entire towns and led to at least 15 deaths, with seven more people found dead on Thursday from a fire north of Sacramento. “I don’t know that we have any fires where we can say we have got enough resources to do what we need to do,” Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said.

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