Fighting the Holiday Farm Fire has been emotional for some firefighters, said Damon Simmons, a spokesperson for Oregon Office of the State Fire Marshal at a Sept. 10 press conference.
“We’re doing what we signed up to do, and what law enforcement signed up to do,” he said. “We’re here to take care of the community.”
Speaking at Thurston Middle School, which has been transformed into a firefighting headquarters, officials offered updates on the Holiday Farm Fire. The fire was frequently referred as “an unprecedented event.” Here are some highlights from the press conference.
Plans for assessing damage
From Rainbow to Nimrod, Highway 126 is inaccessible for fire crews because of downed power lines and fell trees and debris, said Alex Haven, operations chief for the Oregon State Fire Marshal office. Haven said there’s still a lot of dry fuel and the possibility for fire growth that may cause smoke to lift and make the fires more visible to residents in Eugene-Springfield.
When fire conditions are safer, Haven said a dedicated task force will assess structures and how residents are impacted by the fire.
“It is our goal to start those as soon as possible,” he added of the assessments.
Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harold said information about structures will be disclosed to the public as soon as possible.
No looting is happening
Harold said his office has heard rumors of widespread looting happening in evacuated areas but no confirmation.
“We’re not seeing that in this area,” he said but agencies in Oregon to the south and north have had looting and “that’s something the community is feeling anxiety about.”
Sheriff deputies are working 12-hour shifts on, 12 hours off, he added.
The National Guard is doing traffic duty
Harold said the National Guard members arrived Thursday night and are posted to direct traffic, which will free up Oregon Department of Transportation officials, Oregon State Police and Lane sheriff deputies. He said that will allow deputies to conduct patrols of evacuated areas — should the fire allow it.
“We’re going to do the best job we can patrolling those areas,” he said. “We’re going to be protecting people.”
He said police from Eugene and Springfield, Deschutes sheriff deputies, Oregon State Police and other agencies are cooperating with patrols. Simmons of the Fire Marshal’s office said there should be about 24 soldiers from the National Guard and local Guard air assets — like air medical units.
Oct. 29 is the rough estimate for containment but the fire could keep longer
Simmons said the Oct. 29 date is a rough date and doesn’t mean the fire is totally out. It’s the date that firefighters could have the fire contained and not escape. “There’s a good chance this fire could burn well into the rainy season, well into the winter,” he said.
Stop trying to access evacuated areas
Sheriff Harold said people shouldn’t participate in rumors. He said even if you’ve heard from someone who’s accessed an evacuated area that conditions were safe, the environment is changing quickly. “Please don’t listen to that rumor mill that you can access places,” he added. “It’s not for your own safety but for the safety of firefighters going up and down that highway.”
EWEB is addressing the water
EWEB spokesperson Joe Harwood said they’re aware there are issues with the tapwater in Eugene due to the Holiday Farm Fire. He said the fire burned and eroded slopes above and around the river. “When you get that burned material, it adds quite a bit of additional compounds to the water,” he said.
On Wednesday, EWEB added powdered activated carbon to the water, which absorbs the molecules of the organics in untreated water, he said. “Once those molecules attach to the carbon, we’re able to filter those out and then backwash the filters,” Harwood added. “It’s going to take by Friday or Saturday until folks in Eugene can start to notice an improvement in their water.”
Even though the water has an off taste, he said the water is still safe to drink, “just not up to the standards people have come to expect.”