Oregon Governor Kate Brown and other officials from around the state stressed the progress that has been made, and provided updates on the fires still burning.
PORTLAND, Oregon — On Thursday afternoon, Oregon Governor Kate Brown held a wildfire press briefing with fire and transportation officials from around the state. Officials stressed the amount of progress that has been made in the fires, but said there are still many things Oregonians need to be careful of in the days and months to come.
The confirmed number of deaths due to the wildfires remains at 8 people.
Gov. Brown said the state is working to implement FEMA Disaster Unemployment Assistance for Oregonians who are newly out of work because of the fires. It is a manual process but she hopes payments can be made as early as next week.
The Small Business Navigator Hotline, which was set up to help businesses deal with the impacts of COVID-19, is now also equipped to answer questions about wildfire resources for businesses. Business owners can go to wildfire.oregon.gov or call 833-604-0880 to learn more.
“I know that we have a really long road ahead, but time and time again, I’m certainly in awe of the dedicated and brave people who have been doing anything and everything it takes to help their fellow Oregonians,” said Brown.” To our firefighters, first responders, National Guard members, public servants and to Oregonians who are helping their neighbors out during these difficult times, thank you.”
Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, said a lot of progress has been made, and many of the wildfires have control lines that have held for at least three days. The resources from those fires are now able to be reallocated to the areas that need it most.
Grafe said crews are now focused on 10 remaining large fires in Oregon, and the first three combine for over 500,000 burned acres:
- Beachie Creek (Marion County) – 20% contained
- Lionshead (Marion County – 10% contained
- Riverside Fire (Clackamas County) – 6% contained
- Holiday Farm Fire (Lane County) – 10% contained
- Archie Creek Fire (Douglas County) – 20% contained
- Thielsen Fire (Douglas County) – 1% contained
- Two Four Two Fire (Klamath County) – 30% contained
- Brattain Fire (Lake County) – 20% contained
- South Obenchain Fire (Jackson County) – 25% contained
- Slater Fire (which pushed into Southern Oregon from California) – 10% contained
“I could not be prouder with what we’ve done in this short amount of time,” said Grafe.
A storm front is expected to come Thursday night through Friday, including widespread rain, which Grafe said is good news for Oregon’s fight against these wildfires. But the storm may also bring strong winds, which could push the containment lines around some fires. Flash flood watches have also been announced for several areas.
“The reality is, those winds certainly could push fires and will challenge us,” said Grafe. “Hopefully those rains come abruptly after those winds to really put a cap on any significant fire behavior.”
The other concern from the storm is that heavy rain could cause debris to float, including fallen trees. People need to be very cautious when traveling around the state.
As far as air quality, an advisory is still in effect through Thursday, but Gabriela Goldfarb, Environmental Public Health Section Manager at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), says the change in weather is good news for most parts of Oregon.
People along the coast are already seeing good air quality. Smoke in the rest of Western Oregon should clear by the middle of the day Friday, Central Oregon skies will clear over the course of Friday or Saturday.
For people in areas near active fires and in parts of Eastern Oregon, the smoke may linger longer into next week, but is improving to less harmful levels.
OHA is developing a new resource on wildfire.oregon.gov to provide information on how to safely clean up ash and soot that remains on homes around the state, as people return to their houses.
Kris Strickler, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, said the main safety concerns on Oregon’s roadways are:
- Weakened fallen or falling trees
- Rocks the size of hoods of cars are falling onto roadways
- Many slopes are actively moving, because of damaged root systems
- Steep canyons and rock chutes on steep slopes will continue to be a hazard for some time
Strickler said the areas expected to be impacted the most are Oregon’s mountainous river canyons: the Clackamas, Santiam and McKenzie rivers, along Highway 224, Highway 22 and Highway 126.
“With the coming rain and snow in the winter, while it is great for the fire season, we do need to continue to prepare for post-fire season and what that means for those unstable slopes,” said Strickler. “The public can expect to have more landslides, more impacts and more continued fallout from these activities as soon as the moisture saturates the ground.”
Crews are working as fast as possible to reopen roads across the state, but it may be many months or even years before the roads are back to pre-fire conditions.
“If you don’t have a need to be [in those areas], please don’t,” said Strickler. “The safety of your fellow Oregonians depends on that. We will get them open as quickly as possible.”
ODOT is looking at a four-level system to manage the reopening of roads:
- Level A: Roads closed completely, even crews aren’t going in to assess because it is too dangerous
- Level B: Roads open to critical services only, including ODOT personnel and emergency responders
- Level C: Partial opening, access for property owners and those that need to get through
- Level D: Full opening, open to through-traffic but still undergoing repairs, with single lane closures, etc.
As of Thursday morning, 240 miles of highways around Oregon are closed because of the fires. Most of them are already in Level B status.
Oregonians can check tripcheck.com for the latest information on road closures.
Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, stressed that Oregonians need to continue to heed evacuation notices, as thousands of people around the state are still under some level of an evacuation order.
He said people that have evacuated from areas that have been under a Level 3 “Go” evacuation notice need to continue to stay away.
Phelps said OEM will remain engaged through the Red Cross and emergency services to continue providing safe shelter to everyone impacted by the fires.
Individual assistance is available to people who have been impacted by this disaster in Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion counties.
People can register and apply for those benefits through the FEMA assistance program at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362.