Fire crews in the Santiam Canyon continued dangerous search and rescue operations on Thursday amid the wildfire destruction that obliterated towns along Highway 22.
Fire officials on Thursday said downed power lines earlier this week caused at least 13 fires between Detroit and Mehama.
High winds Monday into Tuesday downed the lines and fanned the flames of what’s now the Beachie Creek Fire, which has scorched 182,000 acres on both sides of the highway.
Incident Commander Les Hallman said the cities of Mill City, Gates, Lyons, Mehama, Detroit and other areas along the highway have seen significant damage. Video from inside the firelines shows leveled neighborhoods and businesses.
“Fire Operations continue to be in rescue mode; however, firefighters made significant progress yesterday in opening roadways for emergency personnel,” Hallman said. “This has created critical access for crews to effect rescues and for trapped citizens to evacuate. Additionally, as fire crews and law enforcement officers patrol the interior of the fire we gain critical intelligence on the extent of destruction.”
Hallman said crews are working with ODOT, Oregon State Police and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to create road access, effect rescues and assess the extent of damage.
Evacuation notices are being coordinated by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office who are working to identify victims and notify next of kin.
“Rescue operations have been extensive and wide-ranging,” Hallman said. “Rescues have varied widely, in some cases individuals were impeded by downed trees and roadway blockages while others escaped the heavy smoke, high heat and flames by moving to local waterways. Individuals found with injuries were transported to local hospitals for further care and assessment.”
Currently, 9,764 structures are at Level 3 evacuations and another 11,941 homes are under in level 2 evacuations.
Hallman once again warned people to stay away from the fire perimeter for the safety of themselves and first responders.
“There are many fallen trees, hanging snags and power lines impeding roadways and it is not safe to access these areas,” he said.