Oregon leaders: Weather brings optimism even as wildfires rage

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Sept. 14, 2020 10:19 p.m. Updated: Sept. 15, 2020 1:38 p.m.

About 5,000 firefighters are now working to control dozens of fires

Gov. Kate Brown and state fire officials on Monday continued to express optimism that Oregon will make progress tackling dozens of fires burning throughout the state.

With cooler, humid weather over the weekend, firefighters were able to hold the line on many of Oregon’s most devastating blazes. Acting State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said her office will begin pulling resources from fires east of Salem, near Molalla, and in Southern Oregon, transferring them to fires that currently pose a greater threat to buildings.


“The majority of structural protection we feel pretty good about,” Temple-Ruiz said.

Smoke moving in on Portland as Oregon wildfires raged last week.

Smoke moving in on Portland as Oregon wildfires raged last week.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

But while lighter winds from the west have calmed the hot, dry and gusty conditions that gave rise to the current firestorm, some threats exist. Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, said increasing winds in central and southern Oregon could push fires to the east, and that expected rain in coming days could bring risks along with relief.

“That rain may come with some lightning and thunderstorms, particularly on the east side of the state, which could cause new fire starts,” Grafe said.


He pleaded with Oregonians to keep personal drones outside of fire areas, saying that firefighting aircraft, which have largely been stymied by smoky conditions, might have to be grounded “when we have a foreign drone in that airspace.”

On Monday, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and the National Weather Service extended air quality alerts, as expected winds failed to push out smoke that is covering all of Oregon. Those warnings are now in place until Thursday at noon, though forecasters say they’re not sure when air quality will return to normal levels.

Brown and other officials have said the federal government and many states have responded to Oregon’s call for help, with resources coming in from states like Michigan, North Dakota, New Mexico and many more.

Grafe said that there are currently about 5,600 firefighters working in Oregon, compared to around 3,000 last week. Grafe has said previously that around 6,000 firefighters might be necessary to contain Oregon’s fires, but suggested Monday that even more might ultimately be necessary.

Oregon’s efforts include 375 National Guard troops arranged into three firefighting teams. Two more 125-person teams will begin training this week, according to Adjutant General Michael Stencel.

While some of the largest wildfires aren’t expected to diminish until autumn rains arrive, the stint of favorable temperatures has allowed officials to begin focusing on the state’s long-term recovery process.

Brown said she had asked three charitable organizations — the Meyer Memorial Trust, Ford Family Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation — to create a fund “to help plan for what comes next.” She did not say how large a fund she envisioned.

“The smoke blanketing the state is a constant reminder that this tragedy has not yet come to an end,” Brown said. “I think we all know that we are a long way from recovery.”


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