About 3,000 firefighters are currently battling the flames scorching Oregon — which have devoured 900,00 acres and prompted as many as 40,000 people to evacuate — but in order to get the fires contained, officials warn they need double the humanpower.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has requested help from other states — Utah strike teams are on their way — and she’s asked the U.S. Department of Defense for a battalion of trained firefighters to assist.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” the governor said in a press briefing on Thursday.
The wind and air dynamics are continuing to make it difficult for firefighters to contain the state’s largest fires. Three fires in particular are cause for immediate concern, the Riverside, Beachie and Lionsheads fires burning in Clackamas County.
Two of the fires, the Beachie and Riverside, could potentially merge and cause explosive fire activity, according to Mariana Ruiz-Temple, the chief deputy state fire marshal. The Riverside Fire is currently the most serious fire and is pushing toward Estacada.
Brown announced during the press conference an evacuation order had been put in place for the Molalla area.
Fire crews have begun to make some progress on containing some of the fires at the coast, in Southern Oregon and Washington County.
The governor said it’s still too early to say how many people have died or fully assess the damage.
“In the last 10 years we have seen an average 500K acres burned in an entire (fire season). We have seen that double in the last three days,” Brown said.
She later added: “I expect it will take several days, weeks for us to fully estimate the damage.”
Right now, the governor said, the focus remains on saving lives.
Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, encouraged Oregonians to stay home if they are currently safe and to remain aware of the alerts for their area. He advised residents not to return to evacuated zones until they have been told it’s safe to do so.
The governor said she knows the “situation is bleak right now,” and said the state “will get through this.”
But she also said this wouldn’t be a one-time event.
“We are feeling the acute effects of climate change,” Brown said.