Well over 1 million acres of land has burned, over 1,500 square miles in the past several days. Air quality in Oregon is the worst in the entire world due to wildfire smoke, said Governor Kate Brown at the Sept. 11 press conference.
But there was a positive shift in the weather over the night, as the east winds that rapidly advanced the fires have subsided.
“The weather system fueling these fires over the past few days has finally broken down and our firefighting teams tell me they can feel it,” Brown said.
State officials are anticipating continued cooler air and potentially moister coming in next few days. Still, fire fighters are working around the clock to safe lives and property from destruction, says Gov. Brown.
“Almost anywhere in the state you can feel this now,” she said.
Brown, has instructed the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and OSHA to make the safety of outdoor workers from the harmful smoke a priority. OHA also is recommending restricting physical activity and staying indoors with windows and doors closed as much as possible.
According to Brown, more than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and about 500,000 are currently in level 1-3 evacuation zones. Level one means to pack up necessities for evacuation. Level two means to be ready to leave at any moment. And level three means leave immediately.
“I can’t say this enough, if you are notified by emergency officials to evacuate, please do so immediately... you may not get a second chance,” Brown said.
State officials are also urging Oregonians not to panic and try to leave immediately, as it creates congestion on the roads.
Brown also addresses the increasing concerns of looting statewide.
“Let me assure you that we have the Oregon National Guard and Oregon State Police monitoring the situation and preventing looting,” Brown said. “However, if you try to go back, you are not only putting your own life at risk, but also those of firefighters and first responders who may have to rescue you.”
State officials announced today that their Federal Emergency Declaration was approved last night by President Trump and will bring federal aid to Oregon, including additional firefighting resources, search and rescue and assistance for temporary housing.
“I know it’s been a rough few days, many Oregonians are suffering right now,” Brown said. “Whether they are displaced themselves or worried about their families and communities while watching our beautiful state burn, we are doing everything we can to fight these fires. Teams on the ground are showing incredible creativity and innovation in addressing this crisis and getting Oregonians the help that they need.”
Oregon State Police (OSP) officials have already reported dozens of missing persons related to fires, specifically in Jackson, Lane and Marion counties. Displaced individuals are encouraged to register on the Red Cross website to let family and friends know they are safe.
Brown thanked the good samaritans who have donated supplies, food and provided resources to others. She also thanked first responders who have put others before themselves.
“Even in the darkest of times, Oregonians step up to help one another in extraordinary ways,” Brown said. “This is what gives me confidence that we will get through this and we will be stronger for it.”
Brown was once again joined by Doug Grafe, Oregon Forestry Department (ODF) Chief of Fire Protection, at the press conference who gave an update on the 16 large fires that are currently burning across the Oregon landscape.
“First of all, there’s great news on the front relative to weather... No longer are we under those strong East winds that have moved these fires all across the landscape,” Grafe said. “We’re currently in a westwardly flow, from the ocean, that brings lower temperatures, moisture in the air that helps with the fire fights.”
The change in weather has allowed fire crews to move from defense to the offense, and these conditions are expected carry through the weekend and into next week as moisture is forecasted. Oregon is expected to receive a quarter of an inch to one inch of rain west of Cascades next week. It will provide a “huge benefit” for firefighting, Grafe said.
Additionally, Oregon is under smoke inversion, which is expected to stay for an extended period of time.
“What that does is put a cap over intense fire activity, but it also limits our ability to fly aviation assets,” Grafe noted.
The Riverside, Beachie and Lyons Head fires continue to be most active fires in the state. Those fires stretch from Warm Springs to Estacada and have torched about 56 miles of land.
“We have not seen the likes of this fire in our state, that’s this integrated in our communities, ever before,” Grafe said.
ODF and local crews are working to establish new containment lines on those fires before it reaches Estacada and Molalla. More resources coming, along with favorable weather, will bodes well for their firefighting efforts.
Other fire progress is available on the ODF website.
Grafe said half of the fires represent close to 1 million acres of land, and he expects them to be on their radar until the winter rains begin.
“We are going to prioritize containment lines where life safety is threatened and push containment lines deeper into the woods and hold those fires to the minimum acreage as we can,” Grafe said.
Oregon will continue to see smoke and have fire crews on those fires until those heavy rains begin to fall.
On the Oregon Coast, Grafe said they are feeling confident about all the fires that have sprung up this week. Crews have established containment lines around the perimeter of the Sweet Creek fire near Mapleton, the Echo Mountain Complex near Rose Lodge/Otis and the Pike fire near Bay City.
“Now we have to hold those lines to get these fires off the map,” Grafe said.
National Guard and Emergency Management
Major General Mike Stencel outlined the National Guard’s presence statewide, The Guard has had crews both on the ground and in the air providing assistance.
Stencel said Lincoln County has requested the National Guard for Traffic Control Points (TCP). TCP has already been established in Jackson, Lane and Marion Counties.
Also a 125-member mobilized fire fighting team will be heading out to fire camps tomorrow, including in Lincoln County. The Oregon National Guard has also formally requested additional crews from neighboring states.
Andrew Phelps, Director of Office of Emergency Management (OEM) said last night Red Cross assisted 2,325 Oregonians with some level of sheltering. However, OEM still reported that they had over 500 individuals in congregate shelters in five locations.
Oregon has received emergency federal assistance that will provide additional resources for displaced residents, including 15 trailers with food, water, cots and blankets for immediate distribution. Federal resources will also provide an incident management assistance team, search and rescue, mass care, recovery operations, communications and additional operational management support.
“We know we need help, we have asked, and many of these calls are being answered,” Phelps said.
Phelps also noted that they are preparing for mass structure loss and many fatalities as a result of these wildfires. As they receive more clarity on loss and fatalities, that information will be released, but not until it is confirmed.
Follow developments here online with in-depth reports in the Friday print editions of The Chief.