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Wednesday September 23rd, 2020 2:25PM

The Latest: Downed power lines sparked 13 Oregon fires

By The Associated Press
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The Latest on wildfires in the U.S. West (all times local):

11:30 a.m.

SALEM, Ore. — A fire incident report says downed power lines sparked at least 13 fires during a period of high winds last week between two Oregon communities that were devastated by flames.

The report from the Northwest Interagency Fire Coordination Center that was written last Thursday says the fires ignited between Mehama and Detroit east of the capital of Salem during peak winds on Sept. 7.

The report doesn’t say to what extent those fire starts affected a larger, separate blaze that started Aug. 16.

That wind-driven fire, called the Beachie Creek Fire, swept through a canyon on Sept. 8 and wiped out the towns of Detroit, Gates, Mill City and Idanha. Its cause is still under investigation.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission told local media Tuesday that it had no information that attributed a “specific wildfire to any specific Oregon utility.”

___

11 a.m.

MEDFORD, Ore. — An Oregon man has been formally charged with setting an arson fire in the southwest part of the state that damaged 15 properties.

According to court documents, 41-year-old Michael Jarrod Bakkela, of Salem, Oregon, started a fire behind a home in Phoenix on Sept. 8 as strong, dry winds pummeled the state.

He is not being charged with starting a much larger fire in Ashland, Oregon which began the same day.

Bakkela is being held on an enhanced bail of $5 million in Jackson County and faces 32 criminal counts, including two counts of first-degree arson, 15 counts of criminal mischief, 14 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of methamphetamine possession.

He was scheduled to be arraigned later Wednesday.

___

10 a.m.

SALEM, Ore. — President Donald Trump has issued an emergency declaration for Oregon due to the deadly wildfires that have burned across the state and federal officials have also declared a public health emergency as dangerous, smoky conditions continue.

The major disaster declaration, issued late Tuesday, allows a range of federal help for people and public infrastructure affected by the blazes. The public health emergency declaration will give hospitals and other organizations in the state more flexibility to meet the needs of people who are on Medicare and Medicaid.

Wildfires raging across the state have burned more than 1,300 square miles (3,360 square kilometers). At least eight people have been killed.

And authorities say more than 1,140 residences have also been destroyed by the blazes and 579 other structures decimated.

___

8 a.m.

SADENA, Calif. — Firefighters have prevented a California wildfire from damaging the Mount Wilson Observatory, which played a pivotal role in early 20th-century astronomy.

The Bobcat Fire came within 500 feet of the observatory on Tuesday but Angeles National Forest officials say firefighters were able to protect the historic site.

The observatory is where astronomers confirmed that galaxies exist outside the Milky Way and that the universe is expanding. The blaze remains a threat to foothill communities but officials say the fire behavior has moderated.

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