Local residents look at smoke and fire over a hill during wildfires near the town of Medford, Oregon, Sept. 9, 2020.
Local residents look at smoke and fire over a hill during wildfires near the town of Medford, Oregon, Sept. 9, 2020.

Oregon’s governor says “unprecedented” fires are sweeping across that state with devastating consequences, leaving at least two people dead and destroying hundreds of homes.

At a news conference late Wednesday Governor Kate Brown told reporters more than 121,000 hectares were burning across the state, the equivalent of more than 1,294 square kilometers.  

She said five towns were “substantially destroyed” by the fires, and she expects more bad news to come, saying, “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state's history.”

The fires broke out Monday, fanned by a late summer windstorm with gusts up to 120 kilometers per hour.  High winds continued Wednesday across a large part of Oregon and its Pacific Northwest neighbor to the north, Washington state. The region, known for its cool, wet weather rarely experiences such intense fire activity.

Fires were burning in seven Oregon counties and rural and suburban homes near Portland, Oregon's largest city, were given preliminary orders to prepare for possible evacuations.

Brown invoked the Fire Conflagration Act for the entire state, giving the fire marshal power to direct and deploy state resources anywhere they are needed. She also requested a federal emergency declaration through the state’s Office of Emergency Management.

The Marion County Sheriff’s office reported two deaths due the fires Wednesday.

To the south of Oregon, California continues to battle dozens of major blazes. Authorities say those fires have burned millions of hectares and killed at least 11 people.