Oregon officials had some good news and bad news to report during the Sept. 10 press conference regarding the wildfires that have impacted the state.
After 72 hours, Governor Kate Brown said Oregon is approaching over 900,000 acres burned across the state. In the last 10 years, Oregon has an average of 500,000 acres burned per year. Oregonians have seen that nearly double in the past three days.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state,” Gov. Brown said. “We know that there are fire related fatalities and as soon as we can provide confirmed information, we will do so.”
Gov. Brown said approximately 30,000-40,000 Oregonians have evacuated so far and evacuations are ongoing.
“Please stay vigilant and listen to your local officials and firefighters,” Gov. Brown said. “If you are advised to evacuate, please do so immediately... you may not get a second chance.”
Oregon now has 10 incident management teams managing fires across Oregon. Firefighters continue to work around the clock putting their lives on the line to save others, said Gov. Brown.
They’re joined by national guard members, Army Corps of Engineers and Red Cross volunteers conducting life saving evacuations, completing structural assessments and providing food and shelter to those in need.
“Their efforts are nothing short of heroic,” Gov. Brown said.
Today marks the final day of the wind event that put Oregon in an urgent fire situation. But Gov. Brown said although the wind dynamics are changing for the better, the changing air conditions are making firefighting difficult.
“These weather dynamics are creating unpredictable movement of the fires across the landscape,” she said. “This will not be a one time event. It is the weather of the future.
We are feeling the acute impacts of Climate Change.
“We are seeing it’s devastating impacts in Oregon, on the West Coast and frankly throughout the entire world.”
In the next day, Gov. Brown said they hope to shift focus from evacuation to fire fighting and containment.
“I want you to know that we are doing everything we can to fight these fires,” Gov. Brown said. “We have tapped our Oregon National Guard members and are looking for additional capacity from surrounding states.”
Additionally, Gov. Brown said 30 trained crews from the Department of Corrections are out in the field fighting fires. Oregon put out a national request for additional help and secured Strike Teams from Utah that will be in Oregon in the coming days.
Gov. Brown also put in a request to the United States Department of Defense for battalion of active duty military who are trained in firefighting.
Yesterday, Gov. Brown started setting up the Governor’s Disaster Cabinet, which will streamline state agency coordination and distribution of resources as they deal with the vast impacts of this disaster.
“Thousands of people loaded their cars and precious belongings, pets, and as much as they could possibly carry. They are sleeping away from their homes, in motels, on cots and in shelters, or with family and friends. Folks are really scared and looking for information,” Gov. Brown said. “Know that we are doing everything in our power to support you, we are with you and we will continue to help people stay safe and deal with the aftermath. We will get through this.”
Oregon Department of Forestry Chief of Fire Protection, Doug Grade, phoned in for the press conference and gave a detailed update on fire fighting efforts across the state.
That information is available on the ODF website at wildfire.oregon.gov.
Grafe said the most activity Oregon has had today is at the Riverside fire, which moved northwest down highway 211 toward Estacada. ODF fears this fire could potentially merge with the nearby Beachie Creek fire, creating an explosive, unpredictable fire.
But good news is, Grafe said this is the last day Oregon is expected to have the East winds that have caused the fires to spread. He also noted they are beginning to establish anchor points on some of the inland landscape fires, which Grafe said is encouraging.
On the coast, Grafe said he’s pleased with the progress being made.
“We’ve had really good success on Echo Mountain... the lines held,” he said. “Great work through the night, we had a lot of heavy equipment holding those lines and they’ve held through today. So no further impact relative to structure loss experienced there.”
Up north of Tillamook at the Pike fire, Grafe said those lines have also held through the night and into today.
“We’re very proud of the work being done there by local contractors and resources holding those lines,” Grafe said.
With the State’s Emergency Management team, Andrew Phelps said they are asking all evacuated residents not to return to those evacuated areas.
“Life safety remains our number one priority, we are working to safe lives,” Phelps said.
The State is currently working with local authorities to let people know when it will be safe to return home.
“If you’re at home, stay home. If you are safe, stay safe. Stay informed, stay ready to go,” Phelps said. “Regardless of your evacuation level, now is the time to plan.”
Phelps said evacuation may expand depending on how fires develop and offered tips to Oregonians such as checking in on your neighbors and reporting yourself as safe and well on the Red Cross site if you have evacuated. Phelps said they are also working to establish a registry to enter names of unaccounted for individuals.