Latest: Environmentalist missing amid Oregon wildfire
The Latest on wildfires in the U.S. West (all times local):
LYONS, Ore. — A hero of the movement to preserve old growth forests in the Northwest is missing in one of the many wildfires scorching Oregon.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that 72-year-old George Atiyeh hasn’t been seen since the Beachie Creek fire burned down his house near Lyon, southeast of Salem, last week. His daughter, Aniese Mitchell, posted Friday night on Facebook that the family was reporting him as missing.
Atiyeh fought for years in the 1980s to block the U.S. Forest Service from clear-cutting the area around Opal Creek, a pristine area in the Willamette National Forest known for its ancient trees, including a 270-foot tall Douglas fir thought to be 1,000 years old. Federal legislation protecting the area passed in 1996.
The Opal Creek area was hit by the same fire that destroyed Atiyeh’s home, but the extent of the damage there is so far unknown because it remains inaccessible.
His daughter said she last talked to him on Monday night, and that he was determined to stay because he didn’t believe he was in danger. She said search parties had been looking for him.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California woman killed in one of the state’s wildfires was known as an animal lover who would often rescue stray dogs and cats.
Authorities confirmed Friday that 77-year-old Millicent Catarancuic died near her home in Berry Creek, California. Catarancuic’s nephew, Zygy Roe-Zurz, said she loved animals and had four dogs and several cats at her five acre property in the Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of San Francisco.
Zurz said Catarancuic was “sharp as a whip” and loved to play FreeCell, saying she could win the game in about 80 seconds.
Authorities say nine people have died in the North Complex fire in Northern California. Zurz said his mother, Suzan Violet Zurz, and his uncle, Phil Rubel, also lived at the property and are missing.
Holly Catarancuic, Millicent Catarancuic’s daughter, said her mom had lived in Berry Creek for about eight years. She said her mom had been very happy and the property was a “safe haven” for the family.
This item has been updated to correct a name: It’s Suzan Violet Zurz, not Susan Zurs.
OREGON CITY, Ore. — A sheriff’s deputy in Oregon has been placed on leave after a video surfaced in which he suggested left-wing activists had been “causing hell” in setting wildfires — a claim that has been debunked by the FBI.
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts said he placed the deputy on leave after learning of the video, which recorded the deputy referring to “antifa” and saying that people’s lives and property were at stake because “these guys got some vendetta.”
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies in the Northwest say they have investigated such reports and found them false.
The deputy’s identity was not immediately released.
The sheriff said he would be on leave pending an investigation of making inappropriate comments and violating policy.
Authorities say having to debunk conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away from local fire and police agencies working to fight the fires and protect lives.
WASHINGTON – The White House announced Saturday that President Donald Trump will visit California on Monday to receive a briefing on the devastating wildfires that are burning throughout the West Coast.
More than 20 people have died in wind-whipped blazes in California, Oregon and Washington. In Oregon alone authorities have said more than 1,500 square miles (3,880 square kilometers) have burned during recent days, nearly double the size of a typical year and an area larger than Rhode Island.
The Democratic governors of all three states have said the destruction and speed of the blazes are unprecedented and they blamed climate change for making conditions worse.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the blazes “climate fires” rather than wildfires.
“This is not an act of God,” Inslee said. “This has happened because we have changed the climate.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Favorable weather conditions were helping more than 16,000 firefighters battling 28 major wildfires across California on Saturday. Containment increased on all the fires, with some quickly approaching full containment. Nonetheless, gusty winds in the forecast for the far northern part of the state on Sunday have prompted warnings of high fire danger.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention says wildfires have burned more than 3 million acres in California since the beginning of this year, killing 19 people and destroying over 4,000 structures.
Nine people, including a 16-year-old boy, have been confirmed dead since lightning-caused fires that started weeks ago merged into a monster that largely destroyed Berry Creek, a tiny hamlet in the Sierra Nevada foothills northeast of San Francisco. There was concern that the death toll could climb as crews reach devastated areas. The Butte County Sheriff’s office said 19 people remained unaccounted for.
LYONS, Ore. — Fire crews in Oregon reported making progress on two blazes burning on opposite sides of the state as high temperatures and windy conditions that vexed them earlier in the week eased.
On Saturday morning authorities reported that the Almeda Fire in southern Oregon near the California state line was 50% contained and barely grew overnight. That blaze had destroyed about 700 structures.
In northern Oregon, crews were able to establish positions to limit the spread of the much larger Beachie Creek Fire in Clackamas County south of Portland. They also said that better overnight weather limited the blaze’s growth. There were still no estimates of damage from that fire as crews continue to assess the situation.
Authorities have said more than 1,500 square miles (3,880 square kilometers) have burned in Oregon during recent days, nearly double the size of a typical year and an area larger than Rhode Island.
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon’s state fire marshal has been placed on paid administrative leave in the midst of devastating wildfires.
State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton made the announcement in a news release Saturday, saying the “unprecedented crisis” demanded an urgent response — and that necessitated a leadership change.
Fire Marshal Jim Walker was placed on leave and replaced on an acting basis by Mariana Ruiz-Temple, the chief deputy state fire marshal.
Walker had served as the fire marshal since 2014.
SALEM, Ore. — Oregon officials are urging employers to stop or delay outdoor work, including construction and harvesting, with wildfire smoke blanketing the region.
The Pacific Northwest continues to have some of the world’s unhealthiest air from fires raging in California, Washington and Oregon.
The Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Oregon Health Authority say employers must take reasonable steps to protect workers when air quality becomes unhealthy. That can include halting outdoor work, letting workers with underlying health conditions stay home, and providing N95 masks, as the masks many workers have worn to guard against COVID do not protect against smoke particles.
“During this incredibly challenging and evolving emergency, we are encouraging employers—particularly those with outdoor operations—to take all reasonable and necessary precautions and steps to ensure the safety of their employees,” Oregon OSHA administrator Michael Wood said in a news release.