Officials in Oregon are preparing for a “mass fatality incident” as deadly wildfires continued to burn, the state’s emergency management director, Andrew Phelps warned late Friday as firefighters continued to battle massive blazes.
“There are going to be a number of fatalities, folks who just couldn’t get warning in time and evacuate their homes and get to safety,” Andrew Phelps told MSNBC.
Thousands of structures have been destroyed, he said adding that officials were “preparing for a mass fatality event.”
In Oregon, 36 fires have charred 863,794 acres, according to state data Friday. Thousands have been evacuated from their homes, and at least eight people have died since late August because of the fires, according to an NBC News count.
Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said Friday evening that searchers had found two victims of the Beachie Creek fire near Salem. The Almeda Fire, one of the most destructive in the state, is being treated as suspected arson.
Dozens of people were still missing and more than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated, Gov. Kate Brown said Friday. About 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, either having been told to leave or to prepare to do so, she added.
However, there was some hope that relief may be on the way.
Cooler weather is in the forecast, and there’s a chance of rain for Washington and Oregon early next week. More favorable weather in the area of California’s record-setting August Complex Fire, about two hours’ drive north-northwest of Sacramento, is expected over for the weekend.
Highs in the 80s, onshore breezes and higher humidity could offer relief in Northern California in the coming days, the National Weather Service said. Temperatures have been cooler than expected because smoke has blocked out the sun, said Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
But the extended fire forecast for fall, which starts Sept. 22, was ominous.