Oregon congressional delegation announces federal public health emergency

By OPB staff (OPB)
Sept. 16, 2020 1:55 p.m. Updated: Sept. 16, 2020 9:47 p.m.

Oregon’s congressional delegation Wednesday announced that the state’s request for a public health emergency declaration has been granted.

The declaration comes as smoke from wildfires continues to blanket much of Oregon.


“Oregon was already facing one major public health emergency, with a once-in-a-century pandemic,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said in a statement. “Now, deadly fires and hazardous air are compounding the public health dangers our communities face.”

The emergency declaration will give Oregon an incident management team and regional emergency coordinators who will work with state and local health officials, emergency response officials and others.

Among other resources, it also marks the activation of the National Disaster Medical System, which will provide assistance to the state in the form of search and rescue teams and mortuary assistance.

White House approves Oregon’s disaster declaration request for wildfire relief

Top officials in Oregon are applauding the quick approval by the White House of Gov. Kate Brown’s request for a major disaster declaration.

The state requested public assistance for 24 counties — virtually all of western Oregon, as well as parts of central and eastern Oregon — in its disaster declaration request, as well as individual assistance for eight of the hardest-hit counties, including Clackamas, Jackson, Lane and Marion counties.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, noted the approval in a tweet, saying she appreciated it was done quickly, “so we can promptly send more help where it is desperately needed.”

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, the only Republican in Oregon’s delegation, connected the speedy approval to a meeting he held with President Trump this week.

“On Monday, I spoke with President Trump and urged swift approval of Oregon’s Major Disaster Declaration and I am grateful for his quick response,” Walden said in a press release. “This declaration will help make assistance available to both individuals devastated by the fire and our communities across the state as they recover and rebuild.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, whose district has been hit hard by the Holiday Farm Fire still burning in Lane County, also expressed support for the disaster declaration.

“I’m grateful for the White House’s swift action in declaring a Major Disaster,” DeFazio said in a press release Tuesday. “This decision will make more Federal aid available for survivors of the fires and give communities the resources they need to start to rebuild.”

Fire resources and information

These online tools offer up-to-the-minute emergency information on wildfires, evacuations and air quality in the Pacific Northwest:

  • The EPA’s Air Quality Index: Hourly updates of local air quality readings.
  • BlueSky Canada has an interactive map of wildfire smoke forecasts across the Pacific Northwest.
  • Northwest fires and evacuations: Oregon’s RAPTOR Map shows wildfires across the U.S. West and evacuation zones within the state.
  • Major Oregon and Washington fires: The Northwest Interagency Coordination Center shares this map of major fires in the Pacific Northwest
  • Here are some practical tips — including a packing list — on how to prepare for a wildfire evacuation.
  • PublicAlerts.org provides links to sign up for emergency phone and email alerts across the Portland-Vancouver metro area.
  • Outside the greater Portland metro area, alerts are handled by local governments. Search “Emergency Alerts” and your county’s name to find a link.
This aerial image taken with a drone shows homes leveled by the Almeda Fire line at Bear Lake Estates in Phoenix, Ore., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

This aerial image taken with a drone shows homes leveled by the Almeda Fire line at Bear Lake Estates in Phoenix, Ore., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Noah Berger / AP

Inmates return to Oregon State Correctional Institution after evacuation

All inmates who had evacuated Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem due to threats from wildfires have returned back to the facility, the Oregon Department of Corrections said Wednesday.

That facility, as well as Mill Creek Correctional Facility and Santiam Correctional Institution, evacuated early last week, relocating inmates to the Oregon State Penitentiary. Inmates from Mill Creek Correctional Facility and Santiam Correctional Institution returned to those facilities last Thursday.

Rain likely on its way

Promised showers failed to materialize earlier this week, but there’s hope on the horizon. It looks increasingly likely that some rain will fall across much of the western part of the state Thursday into Friday, first at the coast, and then on both sides of the Cascade range. With abundant dry fuels just outside fire containment lines, it can’t come soon enough.

Update on individual large fires

Almeda Fire: Officials allowed residents of north Phoenix and parts of Ashland to return under Level 2 evacuation orders Tuesday morning. The official estimate of structures destroyed by the Almeda Fire leapt Tuesday to 2,357, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. The fire was declared 100% contained Tuesday, according to Jackson County Emergency Management. More via the Medford Mail Tribune.

Archie Creek Fire: Burning outside of Roseburg in Douglas County, the Archie Creek Fire is estimated at about 125,000 acres and 20% contained as of Wednesday afternoon. Inciweb notes that the Level 1 “Be Ready” notices have been “removed for Douglas County.” But officials are still asking residents to have evacuation plans — and there are numerous areas still under Level 1, 2 or 3 evacuation orders.

Brattain Fire: In Lake County, the Brattain fire grew to the north and the west, striking what officials called a “glancing blow” to the town of Paisley. It continues to advance toward the highway and the Summer Lake hot springs resort, where hotshot crews are waiting to catch it. During a town hall meeting, the incident commander told residents, “We’re looking pretty good considering the red flag conditions we’ve had the last three days.” It is over 40,000 acres and 17% contained as of Wednesday afternoon.

Echo Mountain Complex: The fire burning in Lincoln County at the north end of Lincoln City is considered 40% contained at 2,550 acres as of Wednesday afternoon. Fire crews are shifting “their focus to mopping up from the perimeter.” Many areas remain under Level 2 or 3 evacuation orders.

Holiday Farm Fire: Structural evaluations in the wake of the Holiday Farm Fire found 315 destroyed or failed buildings out of 431 that were examined by Tuesday afternoon. Officials haven’t reported how many of those were homes. The fire is measured at 167,000 acres and 8% contained as of Wednesday afternoon.

Lionshead Fire: The Lionshead Fire continues to burn on both sides of the Cascades, threatening nearby communities. The fire grew Monday, driven by southwest winds and the terrain, and “unusually active” fire behavior continued overnight. Crews continued to patrol the fire line Tuesday on the eastern edge. Crew members say mop-up along that edge has been completed, but crews will remain in case any other fires pop up. In Idanha, Detroit and Marion Forks, crews continue to focus on protecting structures, mopping up hotspots, and containment. Fire officials say firefighting efforts are “on a positive trajectory.” The fire is nearly 190,000 acres and 10% contained as of Wednesday midday.

Riverside Fire: Crews continue to work to contain the northern, southern and western spread of the Riverside Fire, which is burning near the city of Estacada. The fire lines set near Estacada continue to hold, and crews will continue to work to strengthen them. The fire was nearly 136,000 acres and 3% contained as of Wednesday afternoon. No new evacuation orders have been issued. Fire officials said with no precipitation expected in the area for several days, the fire will continue to move in remote and backcountry areas, such as the Roaring River Wilderness. Officials announced Wednesday afternoon multiple evacuation level reductions. The cities of Oregon City, Canby and Sandy have returned to “normal” status. Molalla is at Level 1 “Ready," and Estacada is at Level 2 “Be Set.”

Slater Fire: The 148,000-acre Slater, also called the Slater/Devils Fires, started burning in Northern California but has been burning in Oregon for the last several days. Level 3 “Go Now” orders are in effect in Oregon “in the O’Brien, and Takilma areas, Dick George Road (including most of Holland Loop) and Takilma Road areas, Brown Road, O’Brien and all areas south of Brown Road O’Brien,” according to Inciweb. The fire was 10% contained as of Wednesday afternoon.

South Obenchain Fire: The Obenchain Fire remains at just over 32,000 acres in size and 25% contained as of Wednesday morning, as it burns northeast of Medford. Find more on the South Obenchain Fire from Jefferson Public Radio.

Not just bad air — historic, record-breaking bad air

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Lane Regional Air Protection Agency released data from the past week that shows historical record-breaking air quality across the state. Oregon has been choked by some of the worst air quality in the world with such dense concentrations of tiny particles from wood smoke that it’s been considered unhealthy or even hazardous to breathe. And the new data shows it’s the worst ever recorded in Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls. That’s based on an Air Quality Index that categorizes air quality as good, moderate, unhealthy, very unhealthy or hazardous.

Related: Oregon’s air is so hazardous it’s breaking records


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