Ore. fire marshal: 'We’re really concerned about the next 72 hours'
Already burning wildfires could worsen, or new blazes could spark in the next three days in Oregon as high winds and rising temperatures increase fire risk
Austin De Dios
PORTLAND, Ore. — Already burning wildfires could worsen, or new blazes could spark in the next three days in Oregon as high winds and rising temperatures increase fire risk, Oregon officials said Thursday in a press conference with Gov. Kate Brown.
“We’re really concerned about the next 72 hours,” said Travis Medema, chief deputy state fire marshal.
Brown and emergency officials warned Oregonians to prepare to evacuate or to lose power as more than 168,000 acres are already burning in the state, and emergency power shutoffs are expected to hit more than 40,000 households starting Friday. The shutoffs would help prevent wildfires caused by damaged power lines.
The National Weather Service for Portland has issued a red flag warning between Thursday at midnight and 11 p.m. Saturday owing to hot temperatures, high winds and low humidity. Winds are expected to reach up to 45 miles per hour Friday morning in some areas, with temperatures above 90 degrees.
“Go to bed tonight with a plan in the event your family needs to evacuate or you wake up without power,” Brown said. “If you’re asked to evacuate, do so immediately.”
Those most at risk of power outages or fire evacuations should charge their devices and prepare to-go bags and supplies, said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Department of Emergency Management.
“The time to prepare is over,” Phelps said. “Now is the time to act.”
While not everyone is in immediate wildfire danger, high winds could blow smoke over the state and could affect those with underlying health conditions. If the air quality worsens, people should stay indoors as much as possible, Phelps said.
Seven wildfires are burning in the state, including the recent Van Meter fire in Klamath Falls near Stukel Mountain, which has burned up to 3,500 acres since Wednesday.
Northeast Oregon is at a heightened risk, with several areas battling wildfires. The Double Creek Fire now spans over 100,000 acres and poses a risk to the Imnaha and Snake River drainages, according to Forestry Fire Chief Mike Shaw. The Sturgill fire, also in Northeast Oregon, has reached over 17,000 acres. Over 100 homes are in some level of evacuation across both fires, according to Deputy State Fire Marshal Travis Shaw.
Brown has invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act for both the Double Creek and Sturgill fires, which authorizes the state fire marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to help local fire departments.
Officials are closely monitoring the Cedar Creek fire in the Willamette National Forest near Oakridge, Shaw said. Firefighters have had some success with the Rum Creek fire in Southern Oregon, and the state has been able to move some of those firefighters to other wildfires, Shaw said.
The Oregon Department of Forestry has put restrictions on state-protected lands in northwest Oregon due to the fire danger. Restrictions start Friday and will close off-highway vehicle trails, ban campfires and close some forest roads.
A mandatory burn ban was issued in Multnomah County Thursday. This includes recreational campfires, fire pits, yard debris, agricultural burning and permits issued for open burning. The county warns people to use caution when cooking outside.
Power outages and high temperatures may make staying indoors difficult. To prepare for this, Brown has requested generator-powered cooling shelters be open where available, she said.
Multnomah County is opening two resource centers with charging stations, ice, water and information at the Corbett Fire Station and the Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Station 72. They will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday if power is not restored.