An aerial view of Keizer Station as smoke fills the air around Keizer, courtesy of Ian Koenig of Made by Ian Videography and Photography.

BY MATT RAWLINGS

Of the Keizertimes

On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 8, Marion County residents awoke to a bright orange sky that was caused by the fast-spreading wildfire that burned into the Santiam Canyon on Monday evening.

Just hours later, Marion County issued a state of emergency as the wildfires tore through the eastern part of the county.

The emergency declaration allows the county to request additional resources from the state. On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Kate Brown declared the fire previously known as the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires as a conflagration named the Santiam Fire. 

Initial evacuation orders included the communities of Mehama, Gates, Mill City, Detroit and Idanha. As of Tuesday afternoon, Scotts Mill and the Drakes Crossing areas, east of Salem and north of Oregon Highway 22, were ordered to evacuate on Tuesday morning. Aumsville residents, along with residents from Stayton, Silverton and Sublimity, were still on a “be ready” notice Wednesday morning. 

Highway 22 eastbound was closed from Stayton to the Santiam Junction to allow residents from the affected communities to evacuate.

The sheriff's office said in a statement at 3:20 a.m. Tuesday, "Conditions in the Santiam Canyon east of Mehama have become extremely dangerous and all residents who have not yet evacuated need to do so immediately."

“We care deeply about the safety of all of our community members," said Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast in a statement. "The extreme fire activity in the area poses an imminent danger to anyone who chooses to remain in the evacuated area. Our deputies are committed to helping keep our community safe; however, conditions have become too dangerous for them to continue with evacuation efforts at this time. I encourage anyone still in the Santiam Canyon to leave immediately following the deputies out of the area. I cannot say when the conditions will allow deputies and other emergency responders to return to the area to render assistance. Please leave now."

By Wednesday evening, the fire was the largest in the state having burned approximately 160,000 acres. There was 0% containment of the Santiam Fire at press time. Evacuees, pets and livestock were all being offered shelter at Oregon State Fairgrounds and Volcanoes Stadium. 

Keizer Fire District (KFD) sent a brush truck and a pair of firefighters to be a part of a Marion County incident task force team. The crew is still attempting to help get the fire under control.

“There will be members of our team out there for several days,” said Brian Butler, KFD’s Division Chief of Operations.

While other areas of Marion County are in danger, Butler said that residents in the Salem-Keizer do not need to panic.

“We’re not buttoned up against a forest so there should be no need to worry,” Butler said. 

At the Keizer City Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8, Mayor Cathy Clark commended city staff and fellow councilors who rose up to volunteer in various aspects of the response. 

“People of our community stepped up and offered meaningful action, support and comfort. That’s who Keizer is,” Clark said. 

At one point, it was thought the Keizer Civic Center might become the operations center for the fire command post, but it was later shifted to Chemeketa Community College. 

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued a smoke advisory through at least Wednesday afternoon for the Willamette Valley. The drinking water in Salem-Keizer hasn’t been impacted as of Tuesday afternoon, but the City of Salem will be issuing an advisory if that changes.

Items needed for evacuees coming out of the canyon are: bottled water, masks, poop bags, dog and cat food. Donations can be dropped off at the Keizer Chamber of Commerce (4118 River Rd. N).

The United Way is collecting bottled water, baby food, diapers, wipes, pre-packaged food, blankets and sleeping bags, pet food for animals large and small, and personal hygiene items. All donations must be new due to the pandemic and can be dropped off at 455 Bliler Avenue N.E. in Salem. 

Additional updates for the incident may be accessed at:

• Oregon State Fire Marshal Facebook: www.facebook.com/OregonStateFireMarshal/

• Oregon Department of Forestry Facebook: www.facebook.com/oregondepartmentofforestry/

• ODF statewide wildfire blog: https://odfwildfire.wpengine.com/

• Wildfire Evacuation Readiness: www.oregon.gov/osp/programs/sfm/Pages/Wildland-Urban-Interface.aspx#evacuation