SALEM, OR (KPTV) - Authorities in Oregon now say more than 500,000 people statewide are under some level of evacuation order due to wildfires.
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management incorrectly reported Thursday that 500,000 people had been forced to evacuate their homes, which would be more than 10% of the state's 4.2 million population.
On Friday, Gov. Kate Brown corrected that information, saying 40,000 people have been forced to evacuate, while 500,000 people are under either a Level 1 (be ready), Level 2 (be set) or Level 3 (go now) evacuation order.
“We fully recognize the importance of this information to Oregonians – for response and for planning efforts, and for those seeking safe shelter,” said OEM Director Andrew Phelps. “We are committed to getting it right.”
OEM also reported Thursday that wildfires have now burned a record 900,000 acres statewide. That number had surpassed 1 million acres Friday, according to OEM.
There have been at least five reported fire deaths in the state.
Dozens of people are missing in Jackson County in the south and Marion County, where a fire continues to burn east of Salem, Brown told a news conference Friday.
The Oregon Convention Center in Portland was among the buildings being transformed into shelters for evacuees. Portland, shrouded in smoke from the fires, on Friday had the worst air quality of the world's major cities, according to IQAir.
National Guard troops and corrections officers transferred about 1,300 inmates from a women’s prison in a southern suburb of Portland “out of an abundance of caution,” the Oregon Department of Corrections said. Spokeswoman Vanessa Vanderzee said it took 20 hours to transfer the inmates Thursday to another prison in a safe zone.
A change in the weather, with winds dropping and shifting direction and humidity rising, greatly helped firefighters struggling to prevent two fires — one burning southeast of Portland and the other east of Salem, the state capital — from advancing farther west into more-populated areas.
“The wind laid down quite a bit for us yesterday. There also wasn’t that strong eastern wind that was pushing the fire more to the west," said Stefan Myers of the state's fire information team.
Winds coming from the Pacific Ocean also neutralized the fires' advance and even pushed them back, Myers said.
Almost 500 personnel were working on the fires, which were just a few miles (kilometers) apart, with rugged terrain between them that limits boots-on-the-ground efforts to keep them apart, Myers said. If they merge, they could generate such heat that it causes embers to fly thousands of feet into the air, potentially igniting other areas, Myers said.
The high number of fires occurring simultaneously in the span of just a few days in Oregon was fueled by dry conditions, high temperatures and especially strong, swirling winds.
*This story was corrected with updated information from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
Copyright 2020 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.