PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A Fire Weather Watch is in effect Friday into Saturday with Red Flag Warnings for the Cascades. This comes two years after nearly half a million acres burned from the Labor Day fires in 2020 and as rebuilding is still underway.
One difference from two years ago is the addition of the Estacada Fire Department, which is keeping a close tab on the weather and has additional firefighters on standby for the weekend who are ready to respond quickly.
Having those resources in place beforehand is one of the big changes from 2020, with more money from Senate Bill 672 in 2021 giving local departments more resources.
Property owners have also been hard at work clearing brush and fuel from their land.
“We pre-plan by going out looking at our areas, getting brush cleared, having homeowners clear and make defensible space around their homes, so if a fire does happen, we have a little bit more chance to get in and deal with it,” said Alan Lashbrook, Assistant Fire Chief of the Estacada Fire Department.
Portland General Electric and Pacific Power say they each have teams watching the weather to determine if shutting down power is necessary to prevent a fire from breaking out.
In 2020, PGE turned off power on Labor Day to 5,000 customers near Mt. Hood. Pacific Power did not de-energize lines and a string of lawsuits followed.
Kathy Boden is one of several people who lost her home in the fire. She told KOIN 6 News the memories are far from fading.
“We went out and came on the berm and saw a fireman and he said ‘there’s a fire, we don’t know where it’s going, it’s hot just get out,’ and we went home and got out,” she said.
Boden and Susan Mathews are two of several community members hoping to rebuild Dodge Community Church, which was first built in 1900.
“It’s still so present. You think two years, you wouldn’t be thinking about it, but you think about it every day. You see it every day with families who are still trying to build,” Mathews said.
“There was more wind and fire than we had resources that we could actually deal with at the time,” Lashbrook told KOIN 6 News. He added the forecast that weekend “was sort of an unusual time to get the east winds.”
With more money to hire firefighters from state lawmakers, the newly formed fire department has crews on standby ready to react.
“We take and move quick on the area out here. With us at Clackamas, we’re all doing the same thing — moving to knock the fires down before they move out,” Lashbrook said.