As much of the west coast remains mired in smoke and raging fires, officials in Oregon have issued a stark warning that they are preparing for a “mass fatality incident,” with over 1 million acres being consumed by the flames as well as at least seven confirmed deaths and dozens missing during this week’s wildfires, according to CBS News.
Potentially thousands of homes may have been wiped out while at least half a dozen homes were decimated when walls of fires consumed the region.
And as 36-mile-wide line of flames edged into the towns around Portland, encroaching closer on the major city, Portland’s mayor has declared a state of emergency as the unfolding disaster worsens.
Earlier Friday, Gov. Kate Brown said that over 1 million acres had gone up in flames across Oregon. The number is about twice the yearly average over the past decade, according to The Oregonian.
Upwards of half a million people, or 12 percent of the state’s population, are under some kind of evacuation warning or order while about 40,000 have been subject to mandatory evacuation due to what the governor warned was a “once-in-a-generation event.”
Brown paired warnings over the still-raging fires with a rare bit of good news related to the fires: the weather conditions that ignited the fires and fueled their spread are changing, with clear results for firefighters on the ground.
Brown had warned earlier in the week that Oregonians should brace themselves for an expected massive loss of homes, businesses, property, and human lives.
Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, warned on Friday that the state is preparing for the worst.
“We know we’re dealing with fire-related death, and we’re preparing for a mass fatality incident, based on what we know,” Phelps said.
Terrible fires across the over a dozen western states – and especially California, Oregon, and Washington – have easily overwhelmed fire crews and moved rapidly across their respective regions with unprecedented speed, fueled by arid conditions and dry brush that has served as tinder and seen major expanses of forest land consumed by the fire.
With over 100 major fires this week, at least 26 people have died so far while hundreds of homes are confirmed to have been destroyed. 20 of the deaths have been reported in California alone.
A massive force of almost 28,000 firefighters and support personnel have been dispatched to the fires across the West, with evacuation orders impacting residents near 42 of the large fires, according to a Friday update from the National Interagency Fire Center.
Fires are now raging in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.
The fires have submerged cities from Los Angeles to Seattle in choking smoke and reddened skies, while Portland and San Francisco are now facing the worst air quality in the world, with officials urging residents to remain indoors.
However, officials are hoping that calm winds predicted for the weekend could help firefighters gain a crucial foothold on some of the more uncontrollable fires, while the Pacific Northwest could also see rain next week.