Over 3,500 acres burning in McKenzie River area; officials expect loss of life

A sad pup and its owner at Thurston High School, which is being used as an emergency center for those affected by the McKenzie River fires that began Sept. 7. Between 80-100 homes and businesses are expected to be lost, and loss of life is expected. BRAD COOK/THE CHRONICLE

McKENZIE RIVER — Hundreds of people have been evacuated from Blue River, as the McKenzie River fire engulfed 55 miles overnight, affecting over 3,500 acres in the area while still moving westward. 

“We should expect loss of life from this fire,” but do not yet have any confirmed deaths, said Steve Mokrohisky, county administrator during this morning’s emergency Lane County Commissioners meeting. Commissioners this morning declared a local emergency as a result of the fire.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated in the town of Blue River.  

“The town of Blue River has sustained catastrophic damage, he said. “One fire responder said that it appears that 80 to 100 homes and businesses have been destroyed. We expect other homes in the fire area to have been destroyed.”

Based on satellite heat maps, the McKenzie River fire has engulfed 55 square miles overnight, affecting over 3,500 acres in the area. On Labor Day afternoon, notifications were sent out stressing the incoming of high winds and violent fire risks. Overnight, the McKenzie River area burned.  

“Poor visibility due to heavy smoke is making the current assessment of damage and impacts difficult to gauge,” Mokrohisky said, noting that heavy winds forced the fire to travel 13 miles overnight. 

High wind, low humidity and low temperatures are expected for at least the next 24 hours, Mokrohisky said, and the fire is still moving west. 

A level three evacuation notice has been issued for everyone in a 30-mile range from Walterville Elementary School to the McKenzie River Ranger Station. A level two evacuation notice has been issued from the McKenzie Ranger Station east to Highway 20. A level one evacuation — be ready to leave — is issued from Walterville Elementary to Thurston Road. 

Shelters are in place at Thurston High School, as well as a shelter on the east and west sides of the fire. Because of COVID-19, shelters are welcoming people and triaging them to other local resources like hotels and motels. The American Red Cross is assisting.  

More updates as information becomes available. 



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