Oregon governor declares emergency for 23 counties as heat wave builds

By Amelia Templeton (OPB) and Bob Payne (OPB)
July 29, 2021 11 a.m. Updated: July 29, 2021 10:43 p.m.
Hundreds sought shelter at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021, during the heat wave earlier this summer. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.

Hundreds sought shelter at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021, during the heat wave earlier this summer. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday declared a state of emergency in 23 counties due to a heat wave that’s expected to bring dangerously hot weather across much of the state into Saturday.


The emergency declaration directs state agencies, such as the Office of Emergency Management, to assist local and Tribal jurisdictions in responding to the heat wave and keeping people safe.

On Thursday, temperatures throughout the state flirted with the 100-degree mark in many areas, and topped it in a few, with 97 reported at Portland-Hillsboro Airport, 99 in Salem, 99 in Redmond and Bend, and 104 in Medford.

On Thursday, some residents of the Portland area reported receiving alerts or calls on their cellphones about the heat advisory.

Temperatures are forecast to get as high as 99 degrees in the Portland metro area on Friday, according to the National Weather Service. In Southern Oregon, they could reach 102. In the eastern Columbia Gorge, they could reach 101. Highs on Saturday were expected to drop back down to the low to mid-90s for those areas.

Several communities in the greater Portland area have announced plans to open cooling centers. Across Oregon, people can call 211 for information about cooling centers in their communities.

Eastern Oregon

National Weather Service forecaster Cole Evans in Pendleton said people should avoid being outside as much as possible over the next few days. And he said overnight lows may stay in the upper 70s, which won’t offer much relief.

But he also said this heat wave will be nowhere near as extreme as the so-called “heat dome” over the Northwest last month.

“What we’re seeing right now is unusually warm, and we want to highlight it, but ... not nearly on that kind of unprecedented level that we saw in late June.”

Heat safety

Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said people should check on their friends, family and neighbors, or should request a public safety welfare check if they’re concerned about their well-being in the heat.


“My hope is that all Oregonians take excessive heat watches and warnings from the National Weather Service a little more seriously since we understand just how deadly these events can be, especially in some of our urban centers,” Phelps said.

To prevent heat illness, health officials recommend staying in air-conditioned buildings and not rely on a fan as a primary cooling device. They advise people to limit outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day and to stay hydrated.

If you start to feel unwell, take a cool shower or bath to lower your body temperature, sip water and call for help.

Lessons learned

At least 83 people died due to Oregon’s record-shattering heat wave last month and 33 more deaths are under investigation.

The Office of Emergency Management recently completed an expedited After Action Review of the deadly heat emergency.

Its recommendations include twice-a-day briefings with key state agencies any time the National Weather Service issues an excessive heat warning or watch within Oregon. They also determined a need for 24/7 staffing for the state’s nonprofit 211 hotline, which was not staffed for 36 hours during the last heat wave, and a recommendation that public transit is free during emergencies.

Fire danger

The National Weather Service has also issued a red flag warning for wildfires due to the threat of thunderstorms with lightning across much of the cascades, central Oregon and southern Oregon.

The full list of red flag warnings, excessive heat warnings and heat advisories is available here.

Governor’s declaration

The 23 counties affected by Gov. Brown’s heat emergency declaration on Thursday are: Benton, Columbia, Clackamas, Curry, Douglas, Gilliam, Grant, Hood River, Jackson, Josephine, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Morrow, Multnomah, Polk, Sherman, Umatilla, Wasco, Washington, Wheeler and Yamhill.

The declaration also advises people who feel they have been subjected to unconscionably excessive prices for bottled water or other essential consumer goods due to this emergency to report violations to the Oregon Department of Justice Consumer Protection Section.

OPB breaking news editor Jeff Thompson contributed to this report.