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More than 2,000 Oregon homes are evacuated as the Cedar Creek fire quadruples in size

The Cedar Creek fire pictured Friday, the day officials ordered the evacuation of the towns of Oakridge and Westfir.
Justin Wood
U.S. Forest Service
The Cedar Creek fire pictured Friday, the day officials ordered the evacuation of the towns of Oakridge and Westfir.

A wildfire in Oregon has quadrupled in size since late last week, threatening thousands of homes and draping the Interstate 5 corridor, including the Portland metropolitan area, in heavy smoke.

The Cedar Creek fire began during a lightning storm on August 1st. As of Sunday, it had grown to nearly 86,000 acres, officials said, and the fire "breached existing lines," meaning containment dropped to 0%.

The fire threatens more than 2,200 homes and hundreds of commercial buildings, officials said, mostly in the nearby towns of Oakridge and Westfir, which have a combined population of about 3,500 residents. Officials ordered evacuations on Friday.

Gusty winds, high temperatures and dry conditions late last week and into Saturday exacerbated the fire, fueling its growth from about 18,000 acres on Wednesday to more than four times that number by Sunday.

On Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state fire emergency, allowing the state's fire marshal to support local firefighting agencies.

"The Cedar Creek Fire grew rapidly towards Oregon communities this morning, and the fire's growth potential in the coming days is troubling, requiring additional resources to battle the fire and support the state's response," she said.

By Sunday, officials said weather conditions had eased. "That gives us an opportunity to be defensible with where our primary control lines are," said Adam Veale, an incident commander trainee, in a video update Saturday.

Firefighters said Sunday they had completed strategic burning operations along the fire's northwest edges and were working to set up protective measures along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, a 66-mile stretch of highway east of the fire dotted with campgrounds and resorts, including the Mt. Bachelor ski area, which is hosting a fire command center. "These fire breaks are high priority and will likely take most of a week to complete," officials said.

The rural and mountainous area affected by the Cedar Creek fire is mostly within the Willamette National Forest, a popular recreation destination with lakes and trails. Much is currently closed to the public.

A Red Cross shelter has been set up at the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene, about 50 miles to the northwest.

Oregon fire agencies are battling several other blazes statewide, including the Double Creek Fire in the northeastern part of the state. Utilities had shut down power to tens of thousands of customers Friday as a preventative measure amid the windy conditions.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.