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Gov. John Kitzhaber declares state of emergency to battle Oregon wildfires
July 16, 2014 at 6:41 PM, updated July 16, 2014 at 11:07 PM

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in response to a rash of wildfires burning in steep, rugged terrain across the state.

The verbal emergency declaration enables the Oregon National Guard to mobilize resources on an as-needed basis to assist the Department of Forestry and the Oregon fire marshal to fight the blazes.

Hot, dry weather has increased wildfire danger across the Northwest.

As of Wednesday night, there were at least 10 wildfires raging in Oregon.

"Oregon is facing a severe fire season," Kitzhaber said in a release. "Conditions are dry and new fires are starting daily."

Kitzhaber said his declaration frees up the resources needed to "protect people, property, and Oregon's natural areas."

The emergency was declared in accordance with ORS 401.165, which says the governor can take such action once he determines that wildfires are a threat to life, safety, and property threat exceeds the firefighting capabilities of local firefighters and equipment.

For the past week, Oregon firefighters have been hindered by hot, windy weather and steep, rugged terrain. Washington state officials have also declared a state of emergency in 20 counties.

Meanwhile, the AP reports that Washington has received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to use an unmanned drone to monitor wildfires that pose an urgent threat.

Here's the state of wildfires around the Northwest as of Wednesday night:

In Oregon, the Buzzard complex of eight fires has grown to 90,000 acres about 45 miles northeast of Burns in the east part of the state. Crews are using heavy air tankers, single-engine planes and helicopters to attack flames from the air and assist ground crews who focused on digging line by hand and with bulldozers.

Firefighters are working on protecting homes and establishing anchor points to extend lines. No homes have been lost but a barn was destroyed on Tuesday. The fires threaten 20 structures, including ranches, as well as livestock, sage grouse habitat and grazing land.

All access roads into Warm Springs Reservoir remain closed until further notice.

In central Oregon, the Waterman complex of three fires has charred more than 4,300 acres of timber and grass about 10 miles northeast of Mitchell. Officials have closed U.S. 26 at Ochoco Summit.

The complex is zero percent contained.

Also in central Oregon, the Shaniko Butte fire threatens homes and other buildings in an area about 14 miles north of Warm Springs. Ignited by lightning, the fire has scorched 12,198 acres.

About 20 miles north of Sisters, the Bridge 99 complex of two fires has charred more than 1,047 acres of timber. More than 170 firefighters and support staff are working the fires. No homes are threatened.

In north-central Oregon, the White River fire has scorched 642 acres about 16 miles west of Maupin. Three structures and natural resources are at risk. The fire is now 90 percent contained and the cause is under investigation.

And in central-western Oregon, the Bingham complex of two fires on the west side of the Cascades is burning in the Willamette National Forest about five miles east of Marion Forks. Caused by lightning, it has charred nearly 350 acres. Oregon 22 runs through the area but is currently open.

In northeast Oregon, the Pittsburgh fire, ignited by lightning 18 miles northeast of Imnaha, has burned through 7,100 acres of grass and brush in steep and rugged terrain.

The Pittsburgh fire is zero percent contained.

In southern Oregon, the Moccasin Hill fire, 25 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, has charred more than 2,535 acres and is 35 percent contained. So far, 17 residences have been destroyed along with 16 minor structures.

In Washington state: The biggest fire is burning in the Mills Canyon area southwest of Entiat, Wash., charring more than 22,500 acres of grass, brush and timber. The fire, now 40 percent contained, threatens more than 400 structures.

North of Leavenworth in central Washington, a fast-moving fire covering more than 1,200 acres has led to a 35-mile closure of Highway 2 and the evacuation of 850 homes. A lightning strike started the blaze Tuesday near Chiwaukum Creek.

-- Joseph Rose

Lynne Terry of The Oregonian contributed to this report.

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