PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to the imminent threat of wildfires across the state.
Over the past week, a historic heatwave rolled through the Pacific Northwest, bringing high temperatures and worsening already dry conditions. Although we’ve now passed the threshold of three-digit temperature days, there is still no rain in the extended forecast. The governor says much of the state is in high or extreme fire danger with red flag warnings in effect.
A total of 19 counties are already in declared drought emergencies. The governor said this extreme heat is just adding to the already challenging landscape firefighters will have to face.
“Oregon is still recovering from the devastation of last year’s wildfires, which resulted in nine Oregonians losing their lives and thousands more losing their homes. With wildfires already sparking this year, it is imperative that we act now to prevent further loss — of life, property, business, and our natural resources,” Gov. Brown said. “I issued this emergency declaration to ensure every resource is made available for firefighting efforts and to the crews striving to protect our state. With fire seasons increasingly starting earlier and lasting longer, it is up to each of us to do our part to prevent wildfires and be prepared for the ones we can’t prevent. I am urging Oregonians to take charge in preventing human-caused fires by being prepared, safe, responsible, and aware.”
The emergency declaration authorizes the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal to utilize personnel, equipment and facilities from other state agencies to combat wildfire emergencies. It also allows agencies to temporarily suspend any rules that impair the response to wildfires and to request assistance from other states.
Alison Green with the Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal said this year’s statewide emergency declaration is earlier than usual.
“Last year, we had a historic fire season. It’s fresh in everyone’s minds. We had fire season start incredibly early this year and seeing that declaration early — it’s kind of inline with the conditions we are seeing,” said Green. “We had record-breaking heat, we had dryness and at the same time; we can’t control the weather but this is where we ask Oregonians to step up and help us prevent human-caused fires.”
This declaration comes as a brush fire east of Dufur has grown to about 10,000 acres, according to officials. Last week, two wildfires sparked at the Warm Springs Reservation.
Fireworks and fire dangers
Brown said the power to issue bans on fireworks rests with city and county leaders. However, she said, “I obviously do have authority under my emergency power to do something statewide but given the conditions are different in different regions around the state, I think the decision is best left to the local communities, the local elected officials and their community members.”
Portland, Milwaukie, Tualatin, Cannon Beach and the entirety of Clark County in Southwest Washington have joined a growing list of areas in the region banning the use of fireworks — legal and illegal — this Fourth of July holiday.
“If we don’t take this proactive step now, I fear the consequences could be devastating,” Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Sara Boone said in a statement. “It is not easy to make a decision like this so close to our national holiday but as Fire Chief, I feel I have a higher responsibility to sometimes make unpopular decisions during unprecedented times to protect life, property and the environment.”
Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Rob Garrison said crews are preparing for a busy weekend ahead and are urging community members to be safe.
“Every year, we always have fires on the Fourth of July — lots of brush fires usually a structure fire or two that are caused by fireworks,” said Garrison. “With the extreme danger that we have right now high use of fireworks is going to increase those calls to fire for us.”
In Salem, the local Costco pulled fireworks from the shelves on Tuesday. In a statement to KOIN 6 News, officials at the local store said they were asked to remove the products by corporate.
On Wednesday morning, the City of Sandy and the Sandy Fire District announced the professional firework display at the Sandy High School has been postponed. Officials are asking Sandy residents to not use fireworks this holiday and to find another way to celebrate.