PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN/AP) — The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived in Oregon on Wednesday to get a closer look at wildfires burning across the state.
FEMA Director Deanne Criswell met with FEMA staff in Salem, as well as Gov. Kate Brown, the head of the Oregon Emergency Management Office, the Red Cross and members of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. KOIN 6 News was not granted access to those meetings. Brown’s office said FEMA requested that media not be included; FEMA said the director was on a tight schedule.
FEMA approved federal funds days ago to help fight Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, which is currently the largest in the U.S. Criswell reportedly flew to southern Oregon to view the massive blaze which was listed at 395,463 acres and 32% containment on Wednesday afternoon. FEMA has faced strong criticism in Oregon for denying most Oregon wildfire claims from families and businesses in the wake of the devastating 2020 wildfires.
“Unfortunately, there were a lot of false claims by criminals trying to steal money from the federal government and over the course of things how they set it up, it knocked out tons of legitimate filers,” Sen. Jeff Merkley told KOIN 6 News.
Wildfires in the American West are creating hazy skies as far away as New York as the massive infernos spew smoke and ash into the air in columns up to 6 miles high. Skies over New York City were hazy Tuesday as strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states.
Fires also grew on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada. The Dixie Fire, which broke out near the site of the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people in the town of Paradise, ballooned to more than 133 square miles (344 square kilometers), with 15% containment. More than 800 structures were threatened. In Alpine County, known as the California Alps, the Tamarack Fire caused evacuations of several communities and grew to 61 square miles (158 square kilometers) with no containment.
The smoke on the U.S. East Coast was reminiscent of last fall when multiple large fires burning in Oregon in the state’s worst fire season in recent memory choked the local skies with pea-soup smoke but also impacted air quality several thousand miles away.
“We’re seeing lots of fires producing a tremendous amount of smoke, and … by the time that smoke gets to the eastern portion of the country where it’s usually thinned out, there’s just so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it’s still pretty thick,” said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Over the last two years we’ve seen this phenomenon.”
An overview of the major wildfires in Oregon, listed by the date they started
Elbow Creek Fire
Reported July 15
17,271 acres, 20% containment
Information: Elbow Creek Fire
Game Hog Creek Fire
July 3, reignited July 13
135 acres 0% containment
Began July 12, unknown cause
686 acres, 95% contained
Evacuation information for the Darlene Fire
Information: Darlene Fire
Began July 12, unknown cause
195 acres, 12% contained
Estimated containment: July 24
Information on Bruler Fire
Began July 11, unknown cause
6,032 acres, 84% contained
Information: Grandview Fire
Deschutes County evacuation information
Began July 6, lightning
395,463 acres, 32% containment
The acreage contains the merged Bootleg and Log fires
Evacuation efforts are rapidly changing, officials said.
The latest evacuation information is provided
in an interactive map for Lake and Klamath counties.
Information: Bootleg Fire
Began July 5, unknown cause
19,352 acres, 55% containment
Information: Jack Fire
Tony Galvez fled the Tamarack Fire in California on Tuesday with his daughter at the last minute and found out later that his home was gone.
The Oregon fire has ravaged the southern part of the state and has been expanding by up to 4 miles (6 kilometers) a day, pushed by gusting winds and critically dry weather that’s turned trees and undergrowth into a tinderbox.
Fire crews have had to retreat from the flames for 10 consecutive days as fireballs jump from treetop to treetop, trees explode, embers fly ahead of the fire to start new blazes and, in some cases, the inferno’s heat creates its own weather of shifting winds and dry lightning. Monstrous clouds of smoke and ash have risen up to 6 miles into the sky and are visible for more than 100 air miles.
The fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest merged with a smaller nearby blaze Tuesday, and it has repeatedly breached a perimeter of treeless dirt and fire retardant meant to stop its advance.
A red flag weather warning signifying dangerous fire conditions was in effect through Tuesday and possibly longer. The fire is 32% contained.
“We’re in this for as long as it takes to safely confine this monster,” Incident Commander Rob Allen said.
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. At least 70 homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames. Thick smoke chokes the area where residents and wildlife alike have already been dealing with months of drought and extreme heat. No one is known to have died.
Extremely dry conditions and heatwaves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
On Tuesday, officials temporarily closed all recreational and public access to state-managed lands in eastern Washington due to fire danger, starting Friday. The closure will affect about 2,260 square miles (5,853 square kilometers) of land.
Associated Press Video Journalists Haven Daley in Alpine County, California, and David Martin in New York City contributed to this report.
KOIN 6 News contributed to this report