UPDATE: Now a new threat: Possible flash floods in Santiam fire zone

Gov. Kate Brown reviews fire damage in the Santiam Canyon on Thursday, Sept. 17, after she received a briefing from fire officials. (Office of Gov. Kate Brown photo)

UPDATE 11 a.m. Thursday: The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries warned people to be alert to potential floods and debris flows from Thursday evening into Friday morning.

Debris flows are rapidly moving, extremely destructive landslides. They can contain boulders and logs transported in a fast-moving soil and water slurry down steep hillsides and through narrow canyons. They can easily travel a mile or more. A debris flow moves faster than a person can run. People, structures and roads located below steep slopes in canyons and near the mouths of canyons may be at serious risk,” the agency said in a statement Thursday morning.

The Santiam Canyon has been placed under a flash flood watch from Thursday afternoon into late evening by the National Weather Service as potentially heavy rain could trigger debris flows in fire burned areas.

The new threat comes as firefighters continue working to gain control of the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires while government officials assess damage that has left thousands homeless and Oregon Highway 22 inaccessible to the public.

Here is the latest information on the wildfires:


A rain system moving into the Willamette Valley Thursday and into the Cascades could drop up to 1 inch of rain in the mountains, according to the weather service.

“Flash flooding and debris flows could impact fire crews and search and rescue operations in areas around wildfire burns.”

The weather service warned that “loose rocks and debris will likely fall down hills during periods of heavy rain. Flash flooding and debris flows may block roads. This includes the Oregon Highway 22 corridor between Mehama and Marion Forks.”

Thunderstorms could be part of the mix, the weather service said.

For Salem, the weather service said a quarter to a half inch of rain is possible Thursday night and another quarter to a half inch of rain Friday afternoon into evening.


The Beachie Creek Fire, measured at 191,238 acres, was listed as about 20% contained and full containment is still not expected until the end of October. Fire officials listed 571 people working the fire.

The neighboring Lionshead Fire, measured at 189,316 acres, was listed as about 10% contained and full containment is not expected until the end of October. Fire officials said 1,015 people are assigned to the fire.


The Marion County Sheriff’s Office has maintained the evacuation at Level 3 for Oregon Highway 22 east from Oregon Highway 26, including Mill City, Gates, Detroit, Idanha, Breitenbush and the North Fork Road.

Lyons and Mehama west of Oregon Highway 26 are at a “be set” Level 2 while Scotts Mills was reduced to a Level 1 – “get ready.”

Fire officials estimate 9,353 people have been evacuated from the fire zones in Marion and Linn Counties.

As of Thursday evening, the fire is blamed in four deaths. One person remained missing.


The entire Willamette National Forest remains closed, including campgrounds, trails and day use areas. The Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are maintaining closures on their lands in the fire areas as well.

The Santiam Canyon remains closed to the public. The sheriff’s office and Oregon State Police are maintaining patrols in the area to safeguard property. The sheriff’s office said Thursday night that no arrests were made during the day related to the closure.

Property owners are encouraged to call the sheriff’s office at 503-798-6823 to ask for police to check on property in Detroit or Idanha. The phone service operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Fire officials said they have identified 734 homes destroyed by fire in the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fire areas. More than 200 homes were lost in the Detroit area.

Marion County officials say up to 80,000 trees will have to be removed along Highway 22 before it is safe for travel. Guard rails and signs along 50 miles of highway also will need repair. Officials have provided no estimate for when the highway would open to the public.

Gov. Kate Brown talks with a fire commander in the Santiam Canyon on Thursday, Sept. 17. (Office of Gov. Kate Brown photo)


SPECIAL REPORT: A night in hell – Santiam Canyon’s ordeal

As people turned in for the night in the Santiam Canyon on Labor Day, one wildfire that had been held at bay for three weeks was unleashed and a second started a westward march that proved to be stunningly destructive. Salem Reporter has assembled this account of that night in the canyon from interviews and documents.

NOTE: As a community service, Salem Reporter is providing free access to its stories related to the wildfires.

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