According to media reports, at least five people have died and dozens are missing in Oregon, as a forest fire burned more than a million acres and washed away thousands.
Andrew Phelps, the state’s director of emergency management, said officials were “preparing for a large-scale fatal incident.” In a news briefing, Kew Brown said that 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of the fire zone – or so, being carried out. Asked to leave or be prepared to do so.
He also said that the weather had improved.
Brown said, “The weather system that fueled these fires has finally broken down in the last few days. We have been anticipating cold air and moisture in the next few days.”
Brown said the Oregon State Police report reported dozens of missing people connected to the fire in Jackson, Lane and Marion counties. In California, where firefighters are also battling wild animals, 10 deaths were reported. A 1-year-old also died in the woods in Washington.
Authorities said Friday that a man was arrested on two counts of arson and multiple counts of criminal mischief for allegedly setting fire in Jackson County. The Jackson County Sheriff Office said someone noticed a person later identified as 41-year-old Michael Jarrod Bakela, set fire to the back of a house.
The fire is believed to have belonged to one of the two fires that merged to become the Alameda Fire.
Hundreds of firefighters are battling two other large fires – called the Beechley Fire and Riverside Fire – that threaten to merge on Friday near populated areas near Portland. The city on Thursday declared a state of emergency and officials offered resources to help combat the fire.
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The Oregon Convention Center in Portland was renovated into a shelter to vacate the house. Smoke from the fire changed the state’s air quality, which Brown now called “the worst place in the world.”
He said the White House approved a request from the state for an emergency declaration to provide assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.