PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “I want to be upfront in saying we expect to see a great deal of loss, in human life and property.”
That’s what Governor Kate Brown said at a noon press conference Wednesday about the devastating wildfires spreading rapidly throughout the state. She said it could be the greatest loss of human life and property from wildfires in our state history.
The governor said over 300,00 acres were burning in the worst fire conditions in three decades.
She said some small communities, like Detroit, were substantially destroyed, with hundreds of homes lost.
‘No part of state is free from fires’
Chief of Fire Protection with the Oregon Department of Forestry Doug Grafe called the fires unprecedented due to a combination of factors.
“No part of the state is free from fires,” Grafe said. He said wind had subsided in some areas but there were gusts in other places like southwest Oregon.
“Tomorrow [Thursday] begins a hopeful change in weather conditions,” he said. Crews hope to reestablish fire lines that have blown through.
Grafe said relief organizations were most in need of financial donations to support evacuees.
“Oregonians are asking how they can help if they haven’t already been impacted. At this point in time the best thing folks can do is support the communities that have been impacted through financial donations to relief organizations,” Director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management Andrew Phelps said. He recommended the Oregon Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster website.
Phelps said the next best thing people who haven’t been impacted can do is stay home.
“Stay home, reduce the impact of being on the roads,” Phelps said. He also said only call 911 for an emergency, not utility outages or smoke reports.
Reports of people trapped, missing
Mariana Ruiz-Temple, Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal at the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said it was unclear how many people are still trapped in some areas or have been reported missing.
“At this time we have not been able to get into a lot of these areas,” she said. “Quite frankly not even able to get into these areas.”
Governor Brown urged Oregonians to heed evacuation orders.
“If you’re ordered to evacuate, please respond. You might not get a second chance.”
Federal lawmakers step up to help
A bipartisan coalition of U.S. lawmakers from Oregon backed Brown’s request for an Emergency declaration following the governor’s remarks Wednesday. Representatives Greg Walden (R-OR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), and U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) requested rapid approval of Brown’s request for federal disaster relief.
We strongly support Governor Brown’s request for an Emergency declaration on September 9, 2020, for the State of Oregon, in response to the devastating wildfires burning in Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Tillamook and Washington counties, which are also significantly impacting the lands and resources of several federally recognized tribes. Given the severity and speed in which these fires are spreading across the state, we urge you to expedite the declaration process to ensure that local communities have the resources they need to respond to and recover quickly from these devastating wildfires.Oregon Congressional Delegation
Oregon is facing its worst drought in nearly 30 years, which has resulted in some of the driest forest and brush conditions on record. This week, an unprecedented windstorm—with winds upward of 50 mph and gusts of 60 mph—exploded existing fires and caught many communities by surprise. Tens of thousands of Oregonians across the state have now been forced to flee from their communities.
State/national forests, BLM land closed
The Oregon Department of Forestry said Wednesday all Northwest Oregon state-managed forests were closed to public use, including the Tillamook, Clatsop and Santiam forests. Scattered state forestlands in Polk, Lincoln and Benton counties are also closed to the public. The Santiam State Forest is also closed until further notice.
The Mount Hood, Willamette and Siuslaw national forests have also been closed to the public. The Siuslaw closures cover all National Forest forested, coastal, and sand areas and includes the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Sand Lake, developed campgrounds, dispersed camping, day use areas, wilderness areas, and all forest roads and trails.
Many BLM sites are also closed to the public. The Bureau of Land Management closed all campgrounds within its Northwest Oregon District to the public. Dispersed camping is also prohibited. In the Roseburg District’s Swiftwater Field Office, all BLM lands east of I-5 are closed. Recreation sites east of Hwy 101 in the Coos Bay District are closed with the exception of the Dean Creek Elk Viewing area. Campfires and open flames are banned on BLM lands across the Coos Bay, Medford and Prineville districts. Camping, day use and access is closed in eastern Washington.
As the state shifts resources from saving life and property from flames to assessing wildfire damage, the governor’s office will request disaster relief from the federal government. Expedited approval will rapidly deliver millions of dollars of critically needed aid to devastated communities.
“The number and scale of fires burning on Oregon’s landscape at the moment are unprecedented,” the delegation wrote, “and urgent action is necessary.”
Tuesday saw wildfires fanned by high winds continue to burn hundreds of thousands of acres in Oregon and Washington, prompting evacuations, power outages and highway closures throughout the region. The governor invoked Oregon’s Emergency Conflagration Act on Tuesday as two wildfires ripped through the Santiam Canyon area while hundreds of people escaped to an evacuation center in Salem.
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