SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Gov. Kate Brown sent a letter Monday to President Trump, asking him to declare a major disaster in Oregon due to dozens of wildfires that have left at least eight people dead and 16 missing, destroyed over 1,100 homes and raced across over 1 million acres over the past week.
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management reduced the death toll by two, to eight, on Tuesday, saying two of the reported fatalities were identified as animal remains. The number of missing persons also was reduced, from 22 to 16.
“It’s really hard to wrap our heads around the devastation, pain and suffering” Oregonians have encountered since dry east winds from the Cascades crest barreled down the wooded canyons of western Oregon, taking lives, homes and livelihoods, the governor told reporters.
“I’m at a loss for words over these deaths,” Brown said, adding that she and her husband Dan are holding all of those affected so deeply in their hearts.
“My fire teams tell me they are optimistic that cooler weather due later this week will be a tremendous help,” Brown said, expressing gratitude for crews arriving from across the U.S. and Canada as well that already have nearly doubled the firefighting force of 3,000 as of a week ago.
In addition, she said, “scores of representatives” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are “now on the ground, assisting with the response effort.”
“The smoke blanketing the state is a constant reminder that this tragedy has not yet come to an end,” Brown said.
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management said at least 1,145 homes and 512 other structures have been destroyed by wildfires, while more than 4,500 evacuees have had to seek shelter.
“The immediate need is great” for assistance, the governor said, expressing gratitude for the man organizations, nonprofits and volunteers “working long hours to help Oregon recover.”
While encouraging Oregonians to give to the American Red Cross, Oregon Food Bank and local relief agencies, she added, “I think we all know that we are a long way from recovery.”
To help fuel that effort, Brown said she had asked three large foundations – the Ford Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Oregon Community Foundation – “to establish a fund to help plan for what comes next, and focus on recovery in the medium to long term.”
She said the new effort, calls the 2020 Community Rebuilding Fund, “will help us invest in long-term recovery, particularly for the most vulnerable communities” hit by the wildfires’ wrath.
The governor cited as an example of Oregon’s determination and heroic actions the Upper McKenzie Fire and Rescue Chief Christiana Rainbow Plews, known to many as “Chief Rainbow,” who along with a dozen of her firefighting team in Blue River lost her own home to the fast-moving flames.
“We all know how quickly that fire moved. It ended up running 20 miles,” she said. “Yet through it all, Chief Rainbow stayed on the front lines. This is what we do in Oregon – we care for each other.:
“The only way out of this crisis is to go through it, and we’ll go through it together,” she said.
As many residents who lost older homes worry they won't be able to rebuild due to today's more stringent building codes, Brown said her Economic Recovery Council will be looking at "how we can remove barriers" and make sure the communities have "the tools and resources they need" to rebuild.
Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, had a “mixed bag” of news on the weather and fire fronts, with more favorable weather this week but challenges from high winds. And the rain, due late in the week, could come with thunderstorms and lightning, especially east of the Cascades, which he said could cause new fire starts.
As he ticked through a list of the progress on major fires, Grafe said containment lines are being built to try to keep the large Riverside and Beachie Creek fires from merging, sparing a 30,000-acre “finger of timber” unburned between the two fires. “We’re going to try to protect the last patch of living trees you can view from Colton, Molalla” and others in the area.
As clean air returns and air tankers and helicopters can return to their vital firefighting roles, Grafe had one urgent request: “We’re asking the public to keep those drones on the ground.”
Governor Kate Brown Requests Presidential Disaster Declaration for the Ongoing Wildfires in Oregon
(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown today requested a Presidential Disaster Declaration for the ongoing wildfires in Oregon. The request follows a federal emergency declaration that was granted on September 10, and will bring much needed resources to Oregon's response and recovery efforts.
"Oregon is strong. Oregon is resilient. But to fight fires of this scale, we need all the help we can get," said Governor Brown. "I am grateful for this federal support, which will help us to both address urgent disaster response needs on the ground, and move towards recovery."
The request includes operational response support, such as additional communications resources, damage assessment teams, search and rescue (SAR) support, debris management, as well as shelter and medical assistance. Individual assistance for the counties and tribes was also included in the request.
State Fire Marshal Active in 11 Conflagrations Statewide
Oregon State Fire Marshal - 09/14/20 3:06 PM
SALEM -- On Sept. 7, an unprecedented wind event began across the Northwest in the early evening. Winds from the east gusted up to 50 mph across the state of Oregon, fanning the flames of existing large fires on the landscape.
The Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System (OFMAS), made up by the Oregon structural fire service, worked nonstop, from the initial onset of fires beginning the evening of Sept. 7 and throughout the following days.
In accordance with ORS 476.510 - 476.610, Governor Kate Brown determined that threats to life, safety and property existed due to fire, and those threats exceeded the firefighting capabilities of local firefighting personnel and equipment. The Governor's statewide Conflagration Act declaration authorized the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal to mobilize resources to assist local resources battling the fire.
"We have structural firefighters from across the state working around the clock to save lives and homes," said State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple. “The Oregon Fire Mutual Aid system provided initial attack to fires throughout Oregon to provide basic life safety and structural protection with the primary focus of saving lives. The state’s mutual aid system has proven critical during this historic series of events.”
Eleven incidents were declared conflagrations over the past week, including a statewide Conflagration Act declaration, where the Oregon Fire Mutual Aid System was able to surge resources for assistance. The statistics provided below are current as of Sept. 12.
- Beachie Creek: Several communities in Marion, Linn and Clackamas Counties. 188,374 acres. 0 percent contained. 37,032 structures threatened.
- Holiday Farm: Along Hwy 126 west of McKenzie Bridge to Vida in Lane County. 161,872 acres. 5 percent contained. 23,556 structures threatened.
- Two Four Two: Chiloquin in Klamath County. 14,450 acres. 10 percent contained. 1,278 structures threatened.
- Almeda Drive: Ashland to Medford in Jackson County. 3,200 acres. 60 percent contained. 16,763 structures threatened.
- South Obenchain: Eagle Point and nearby communities in Jackson County. 25,000 acres. 20 percent contained. 4,175 structures threatened.
- Archie Creek: Steamboat Springs to Glide on Hwy 138 in Douglas County. 115,857 acres. 10 percent contained. 1,856 structures threatened.
- Slater: Happy Camp, CA north to O’Brien in Josephine County. 122,006 acres. 0 percent contained. 900 structures threatened.
- Riverside: Estacada, Molalla, Sandy and surrounding rural communities in Clackamas County.132,526 acres. 0 percent contained. 172,972 structures threatened.
- North Cascades Complex: Communities in rural Clackamas County. 2,060 acres, 0 percent contained, 65 structures.
- Lionshead: Marion and Jefferson Counties and Warm Springs Reservation. 138,718 acres. 5 percent contained. 340 structures threatened.
- PowerLine: Cherry Grove in Washington County. 126 acres. 100 structures threatened. OSFM has since disengaged from this incident.