Wheeler’s order was issued due to extreme wildfire conditions that threaten both lives and property, including threats to Portland and the metropolitan area, he said in a statement on Thursday night.
In the mayor’s order (pdf), “The City of Portland has limited firefighting resources available to combat widespread wildfires throughout the city, and many of the Portland Fire Bureau’s resources are currently deployed to assist with firefighting efforts in other parts of the state.” The emergency declaration will remain in effect until Sept. 24 unless it is extended, and as of Thursday, there were no evacuation orders in Multnomah County.
As of Friday morning, meanwhile, there were more than three-dozen separate fires raging across Oregon and southern Washington state due to winds and excessively dry conditions, according to fire officials. The largest fire appears to be the Beachie Creek Fire, which has burned more than 185,000 acres. Meanwhile, another large fire—the Riverside Fire—is located in the vicinity of the Portland metropolitan area.
Smoke from the fires has also left the city with hazardous and unhealthy air quality for individuals with respiratory problems, elderly adults, and children, according to the mayor’s order.
Under the emergency order, public parks and city-owned open spaces are closed down to the public, while Portland’s large homeless population will be relocated to evacuation shelters until the fire threat is over.
Over the past 48 hours, four people died from fires in California, while four were killed in Oregon and a 1-year-old boy died in Washington state, police reported.
The number of people under evacuation orders in Oregon alone climbed late in the day to some 500,000, about an eighth of the state’s total population, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Management said.
Oregon has borne the brunt of nearly 100 major wildfires raging across the western United States this week. Around 3,000 firefighters have been battling nearly three dozen blazes in Oregon, and fire officials saying about twice as many personnel are needed to bring those conflagrations under control.
Police have opened a criminal arson investigation into at least one Oregon blaze, the Almeda Fire, which started in Ashland near the border with California and incinerated several hundred homes in adjacent communities along Bear Creek, Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said.
In Washington state, state troopers said they arrested a 36-year-old male who was attempting to start a fire near Puyallup on Wednesday. On Thursday, another person was arrested after trying to start a fire in another area.
Reuters contributed to this report.