The Top 10 wildfire stories of 2020


The wildfires erupted September 7, 2020

Clockwise from upper left: A fire engine from the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District sits on Detroit Avenue Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Detroit, Ore., Kristopher Smith holds his dog Tripp outside his tent at an evacuation center at the Milwaukie-Portland Elks Lodge, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Oak Grove, Ore., Wyatt Tofte, This photo taken by Talent, Ore., resident Kevin Jantzer shows the destruction of his hometown as wildfires ravaged the central Oregon town near Medford. (Courtesy of Mark Ylen/Albany Democrat-Herald via AP, AP Photo/John Locher, Susan Vaslev, Kevin Jantzer via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon witnessed one of its most destructive wildfire seasons in recorded history in 2020.

Roughly 1.2 million acres were scorched, according to the state’s office of emergency management. They left people homeless, destroyed timberland, and polluted the air for weeks. They also left many pondering the best ways to prevent a repeat of the devastation in the future. But that may become more difficult as the years go by.

A new study from Portland State University published in December 2020 showed that wildfires like the Riverside Fire that burned in the Molalla River Corridor will likely become larger and more frequent by mid-century under a warming climate. 

Here are the top 10 most-read wildfire stories on in 2020:

#1: Up-to-the-minute maps, evacuations (September 8, 2020)

Hundreds of thousands of Oregonians were impacted by fast-moving wildfires that raged out of control starting in early September. As the state’s leaders and emergency response crews leaped into action, we saw the need for a single no-frills story where viewers could find basic information about evacuation zones, emergency alerts and fire locations.

KOIN continued updating this one story for a full week (an editorial decision typically shunned in most circumstances) in an effort to help people stay up-to-date with the critical information they needed in a fast-moving situation understandably marked by panic, uncertainty and fear.

Infrared imagery of the Riverside Fire in Clackamas County, Sept. 11, 2020. (Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office)

#2: A boy, his grandma and his dog (September 9, 2020)

The tragic reality of cataclysmic fire activity often includes the loss of human lives. Two of those killed during the 2020 wildfires were a 13-year-old boy and his grandmother.

Deputies said they found the remains of Wyatt Tofte and 71-year-old Peggy Mosso, as well as the remains of the family dog, inside of a vehicle on North Fork Road in the Santiam Canyon near Lyons. Volunteers had been searching for him since he ran from his home as the Beachie Creek Fire approached on the afternoon of Sept. 8. Marion County deputies confirmed the news to Wyatt’s father the following day.

Wyatt Tofte and his dog Duke (Courtesy of Susan Vaslev)

#3: Bare-bones wildfire facts (September 11, 2020)

For the sake of accuracy and relevancy, we published a fresh story on Sept. 11 that included a list of the biggest fires in Oregon along with their acreage and containment.

We continued updating this story more more than a month, stopping only after fire officials said they were confident the largest fire — the Lionshead Fire — was controlled and unlikely to grow.

TOPSHOT – The melted sign of the Oak Park Motel destroyed by the flames of the Beachie Creek Fire is seen in Gates, east of Salem, Oregon on September 13, 2020. – The wildfire caused the evacuation of 40,000 residents, killing four people and five are still missing (Photo by Rob SCHUMACHER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ROB SCHUMACHER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

#4. The air is really bad (September 10, 2020)

The wildfire smoke blanketed most of Oregon and made the air unbearable, made breathing outside dangerous. We posted a look at the U.S. Air Quality Index’s interactive map, showing hazardous air quality conditions across Oregon.

As the days went on and the air remained unbearable, KOIN 6 meteorologists continued to update the story and check the interactive map for accuracy.

A paddle boarder travels along the Willamette River despite heavy smoke on September 12, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Multiple wildfires grew by hundreds of thousands of acres this week, covering large portions of the West coast in smoke. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

#5. Evacuation zones (September 13, 2020)

Although many evacuation zones shrank as the catastrophic wildfires began to be controlled, many remained in place as crews continued to battle wildfires across the state.

At least 9 people were killed. More than 2,200 homes and 1,500 other structures have been destroyed.

Interactive maps were released from Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management, Clackamas County evacuations, Marion County evacuations, Washington County evacuations, Lane County evacuations and air quality maps.

The Clackamas County Evacuation Zone as of 1 p.m., September 21, 2020 (Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office)

#6. Get out, now! (September 8, 2020)

A State of Emergency was declared for Marion County and Oregon’s Emergency Conflagration Act was invoked by the governor as wildfires ripped through the Santiam Canyon area of the county on September 8 — just a day after the wildfires began — prompting Level 3 “Go” evacuations for multiple communities.

More Level 3 “Go Now” evacuations were issued  after 6 p.m. that day for the area south of OR 211 between Estacada in Clackamas County and Woodburn in Marion County.

ESTACADA, OR – SEPTEMBER 14: Remains of a mobile home smolders at the Clackamas River RV Park on September 14, 2020 in Estacada, Oregon. Multiple wildfires continued to burn in Oregon as thousands remained evacuated across the West. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

#7. Towns empty out, looters move in (September 16, 2020)

Homeowners suffered huge losses as wildfires ravaged Clackamas County but not all the damage was caused by flames. Around 6:45 p.m. September 16, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office released statistics of crime in the evacuated zones over a 7-day period:

Between Sept. 8, 2020 and Tuesday morning, Sept. 15, the Sheriff’s Office made: 13 arrests in Level 2 and Level 3 evacuation zones, with some suspects booked on multiple charges.

Matt Watts stands guard with firearms outside his home after wildfires and heavy smoke caused many of his neighbors to evacuate the area, in Estacada, Oregon September 12, 2020. – Many residents are concerned looters are breaking homes left empty by people fleeing the fires. Dense smog from US wildfires that have burnt nearly five million acres and killed 27 people smothered the West Coast on September 12. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

#8. Shelters opened right away (September 9, 2020)

Shelters opened up around Oregon as wildfire infernos fueled by dry winds ripped through hundreds of thousands of acres across the state in a “once-in-a-generation event,” according to Gov. Kate Brown.

As of September 11, an estimated 500,000 resided in evacuation zones, with 40,000 forced to flee their homes. Since the fires erupted September 7 temporary shelters opened across the state.

The Red Cross provided support and assistance throughout the state. 

The human-caused Riverside Fire, burning southeast of Estacada, is about 40,000 acres large as of Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 9, 2020 (KOIN)

#9. Fear of fires merging (September 10-11, 2020)

Clackamas County officials warned of “severe and extreme fire behavior” and urged all county residents to be prepared to evacuate even if they were currently in Level 1.

The extreme fire conditions were fueled by winds, which were pushing the Riverside and the Beachie Creek Fire in Marion County together. 

“The fire conditions in Oregon and Washington are probably the most extreme we have ever seen in our lifetime,” Oregon Fire Marshal’s Lance Lighty said during a press conference in Clackamas County.

Business owner Cory Repucci of Lyons was evacuated when the Beachie Creek Fire roared through Marion County, September 14, 2020 (KOIN)

10. Evacuation area grows quickly (September 9, 2020)

Just 2 days after the fires erupted, Level 3 “Go Now” evacuations were still being declared across Clackamas County, including the city of Estacada, as infernos fueled by dry winds continue to devastate communities.

Authorities expanded the Level 3 evacuation area around 9:30 p.m. September 9 to include all of Eaden Road and west to S Harding Road, as well as a small area west of Beavercreek Road which includes all of S Gard Road and Unger Road to the first part of Windy City.

The entire city of Estacada was ordered to evacuate around 1:30 p.m. that afternoon as first responders struggled to control several wildfires in the area, including the large Riverside Fire.

Flames rage on as crews work to contain the Riverside Fire in Clackamas County. (Photo courtesy: CCSO)

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