4 dead, 10 missing in Beachie Creek Fire

Marion County

Santiam Fire now called the Beachie Creek Fire

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Marion County remains in a State of Emergency as wildfires continue to roar throughout the county — including the Beachie Creek Fire, which has burned over 186,000 acres and killed at least four people.

The remains of 13-year-old Wyatt Tofte and his 71-year-old grandmother Peggy Mosso have been positively identified, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said Friday. Deputies said they found their remains inside of a vehicle in the 26000 block of North Fork Road in the Santiam Canyon.

Deputies said two other people who have not been publicly named were found dead by search and rescue teams Thursday afternoon.

Ten people were still missing while 13 others who were reported missing had been found safe by Friday evening.

The Beachie Creek Fire, which was momentarily switched to be called the Santiam Fire, has completely decimated much of the Santiam Canyon. Officials reported the inferno has jumped to 186,856 acres as of Friday morning.

Marion County Level 3 evacuations remain in place for Lyons, Mehama, Mill City, Gates, Detroit, Idanha, North Fork Area, Breitenbush and both sides of Highway 214 north of Silver Falls State Park to Drakes Crossing. This includes Grade Road, Ridgecreek and Powers Creek Loop. Level 2 evacuations are issued for Stayton, Sublimity, Aumsville, Silverton, Mt. Angel and Cascade south of Abiqua Road and north of Silverton, along with anything south of Abiqua Road.

Officials say 13,764 structures are at Level 3 evacuations and another 18,528 homes are under in Level 2 evacuations. 

Map of Marion County evacuations due to wildfires as of 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Courtesy: Marion County)

According to InciWeb, the Beachie Creek Fire was renamed as the Santiam Fire after “acknowledging that the Beachie Creek Fire no longer was the main cause of rapid-fire growth and was instead fed by a series of small fires largely caused by downed power lines and other ignition sources throughout the area.” However, by Friday afternoon, authorities returned to the Beachie Creek Fire name.

The blaze has nearly joined with the Lionshead fire at the east end of Detroit Lake — which is currently reported at over 136,000 acres.

The wildfires raging in Marion County reached the town of Mehama along Highway 22 by 6 p.m. Thursday, Oregon Wildfire Joint Incident Command said. OR-22 is closed from seven miles west of Mehama to one mile west of Santiam Highway, according to transportation officials.

There are currently nearly 500 fire personnel working to tame the blaze. The situation got so bad that at one point — fire crews considered airlifting people from the dock at Detroit Lake before finding an alternate route out.

Clockwise, left to right: The Riverside Fire, the White River Fire, the P-515 Fire, the Lionshead Fire and the Beachie Creek Fire in a map from Inciweb, 9:45 p.m., September 11, 2020

Sgt. Jeremy Landers with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office told KOIN 6 News they have not been able to confirm any reports of fatalities or how many structures were destroyed because the raging fires make some areas inaccessible.

He said they’re aware some people chose not to leave. They really want people to pay close attention to the evacuation levels and not to go into areas that have already been evacuated.

In a Friday evening update, Sheriff Joe Kast said, of the 27 people who were reported as missing since the beginning of the fire, 13 have been found and are safe. According to the sheriff, 10 people are unaccounted for and four people have died as a result of the fire.

Marion County evacuations and resources
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Heartbreak and looting

Michelle Behrens-Webb told KOIN 6 News her brother’s home on Wagner Mountain — which was built by their grandparents — burned to the ground. She said her home in Lyons is OK for now but thinks it’s just a matter of time before it’s gone, too.

“It’s just been like living in hell with this smoke and everything you love going up in smoke,” she said.

Mill City Mayor Tim Kirsch said there’s another issue also going on: looting.

“It’s terrible. The looting part is just ridiculous,” Kirsch said. “I really am saddened by that because people have enough to worry about with their property being burned up, let alone stolen.”

He added law enforcement is doing extra patrols to protect people’s property. So far there’s been at least one arrest and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said they plan to keep that person in custody until they can go to court.

Officials said they know people want to go back and check on their homes, but they want people to stay out for now while all the evacuation orders are in place.

The water reservoir in Mill City went down to critically low levels. They’re trying to shut off all unnecessary water use around town so it’s available for firefighters battling the blazes.

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