A suspect was charged with two counts of arson for allegedly setting the Almeda Fire in the southern part of the state
“We know we’re dealing with fire-related deaths and we’re preparing for a mass fatality event based on what we know and the number of structures lost,” Andrew Phelps, the state’s emergency management director, told reporters during a wildfire news briefing with Gov. Kate Brown, according to KION-TV of Portland.
At least eight deaths had been reported in the state and Brown said dozens more people remained missing, including in Jackson County and Marion County east of Salem, the state capital. Oregon hasn’t released an official count of the deaths.
The two largest fires in the state threatened to converge as they moved closer to the most populated part of the state, leading Portland to declare a state of emergency Thursday.
More than 10% of the state’s population – around 500,000 people – have been told to evacuate their homes or to be ready to evacuate as the fires continued to destroy everything in their path.
Improved weather helped efforts on the ground Friday after days of high winds, heat and low humidity. “The wind laid down quite a bit for us yesterday,” said Stefan Myers of the state’s fire information team.