As wildfires continue to burn Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown opened a Sept. 9 press conference with a dire statement: “We are currently facing a statewide fire emergency.”
She followed by saying, “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”
Oregon’s overwhelming wildfires started Monday night after historic fast hot winds hit the state. Brown and other state leaders held the press conference to talk about the state’s plans to tackle the fires and reminders for Oregonians to listen to evacuation orders and stay inside if they’re in safe spaces.
At the time of the press conference, Brown said about 500 square miles were on fire. And in places where there wasn’t wildfire, the worst fire conditions persist: dry air, dry brush and hot winds.
Brown said because of the fires, she had to invoke a statewide fire conflagration act — her first time enacting it for the whole state. It gives the state fire marshal to direct and deploy state resources anywhere it’s needed, she added.
She said she is requesting a federal emergency declaration, which will free up federal resources for response efforts like power generators, search and rescue and mortuary assistance.
Oregon National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Mike Stancel said at the press conference that there are seven aircraft available for the fire — two of which dedicated for medical services. However, in the past 24 hours, there has been minimal firefighting via flight due to poor visibility throughout western Oregon.
Stancel said state agencies have requested National Guard units for services like traffic assistance, property protection and fatality search and rescue teams. And Oregon Department of Forestry requested three 125-person firefighting teams.
Stancel said should the Oregon National Guard need more people, it can request more guard units from other states.
Oregon has had about 3,000 firefighters on the ground since mid-August, said Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection with Oregon Department of Fire during the media question period. Based on recent fires, he said there should be more firefighters. Since much of the West is fighting fires, he added that Oregon will have to be careful with its resources because other states are stretched thin.
Citing the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, Brown said other states could offer help, naming Utah in particular.
Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon Emergency Management, said for Oregonians to help, the best thing to do is to help through financial donations to response organizations like American Red Cross and directs people to visit OrVOAD.Org for a list of other groups.
“If you’re in a safe place, stay home,” he said. “If you’re in an evacuation zone, make sure you’re ready to go.”
He added that Oregonians should use the American Red Cross’s Safe and Well website, which notifies friends and family members of whether you’re safe after evacuated.
Oregon Deputy Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said that as of now, the state is actively working on getting numbers of people who are missing or dead, but the state has no numbers as of now because officials can’t access fire areas. Ruiz-Temple said that the primary strategy of the state’s response is evacuation and looking for individuals who need assistance.
“As we move into the days of these fires, we will be transitioning from getting into the areas we have not had access to,” she said.