Gov. Brown: 'We are with you .... We will get through this'
PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Nearly 900,000 acres of Oregon were burning Thursday in numerous large and small wildfires across the state – nearly double the amount of land typically burned in an entire fire season, Gov. Kate Brown said.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” the governor said as she joined fire and other officials in a livestreamed wildfire update.
“Today marks what we hope will be the final day of this wind event,” she said, “but unfortunately, the weather system is not yet giving us a reprieve.” The wind shift was creating unstable conditions that make response efforts very, very difficult” due to the “unpredictable movement of fires.”
Brown also said Oregon can expect more such severe fire seasons. “We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change – devastating impacts, not just in Oregon but across the West Coast and, in fact, the entire world.”
The governor said fire managers hope to transition in the next 24 hours from emergency evacuations and saving lives to "firefighting work and containing the fires.”
Brown said the Oregon Department of Corrections has provided 30 trained crews to work with firefighters, and strike teams are coming from Utah, but she’s also put in a request to the Defense Department for a battalion of active-duty military trained in firefighting.
Fire officials said what could be one-third of the state’s firefighting force of 3,000 is due to go back to school in coming days, so the state has asked universities and community colleges to let them continue the vital work and not be penalized for missing the state of classes.
Brown repeatedly offered thanks and gratitude to first responders – and to evacuees, she said, “We are with you. … We will get through this.”
A day or so after the mammoth now-109,000-acre Lionshead and 182,000-acre Beachie Creek fires merged, Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said he expects the 120,000-acre Riverside Fire threatening Portland-area communities to spread to south as well and merge with the Beachie Creek Fire that destroyed much of the Santiam Valley.
Grafe said fire managers are “hoping tonight will be the first evening we won’t see the aggressive push” of downslope winds from the Cascades crest that have fueled the fires.
And like Wednesday’s news conference, Brown said she was just learned of development – this time, an expansion of the evacuation zone that forced out Estacada residents, now to include the city of Molalla.