Gov. Brown Presses Federal Authorities For Resources, As Oregon Wildfires Grow
When the Eagle Creek Fire blew up over Labor Day weekend, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said officials used every available resource to fight it.
The fire quickly doubled in size, and evacuation orders soon followed. People forced to leave the Columbia River Gorge city of Cascade Locks questioned the speed of the initial fire response.
Gov. Brown disagreed with the suggestion that firefighters were slow to react to the fast-growing blaze in the Gorge.
"Absolutely not," Brown responded. "We put all the resources we had on the fire, as quickly as possible."
Fire officials have said a combination of dry conditions and gorge winds caused the Eagle Creek Fire to grow and move quickly, thwarting early efforts to get ahead of the fire.
By Wednesday afternoon, the Eagle Creek Fire continued to threaten Cascade Locks and communities on the eastern edge of the Portland metro area. At least 4,000 homes had been evacuated or put on alert. It had destroyed at least one home and several outbuildings.
But if there is wildfire management to second-guess, Oregon's Democratic governor would direct it at the Trump Administration and its response to a request she made last month.
“I talked with the federal authorities two weeks ago, asking for additional federal assistance, I was told point-blank ‘no’,” said Brown.
The U.S. Forest Service has been helping, and Oregon is expecting the arrival of 200 active duty military from Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington.
But Gov. Brown argued federal officials should be directing more resources to Oregon, because of the disproportionate degree of fire danger in the state. Brown's numbers and those from the National Interagency Fire Center tell a similar story: that Oregon accounts for nearly one-third of the scorched acres in the country. Of 1.5 million acres or more burning across the country about a half million acres are in Oregon.
“It's an extremely critical time for Oregon, and the federal government should be providing us with every level of assistance that they have," Brown emphasized.
Members of Oregon's congressional delegation have said they want to include Northwest wildfire funding in a bill to help communities recover from Hurricane Harvey. The federal government typically reimburses Oregon for about 75 percent of wildfire costs, but Gov. Brown said it was "too early to tell," if that money was secure.
While the Eagle Creek Fire has grabbed lots of attention in the Portland area, it is not Oregon's largest fire. The Chetco Bar Fire burning in southwestern Oregon is the largest wildfire in the country. It threatened the coastal city of Brookings in late August, but Brown said firefighters are tracking its movement in the direction of Grants Pass.
Gov. Brown counts a total of 8,000 people working on wildfires across Oregon, including active firefighters and support personnel.
The head of Oregon's National Guard, General Michael Stencel, said 430 of his members have helped fight wildfires this summer, with another 250 expected to contribute starting next week. The Guard has also supplied four helicopters to fight fires from the air and provide medical help and reach stranded hikers.
Stencel said responding to fires was requiring sometimes last-minute notices to families and employers - who have been very supportive.
"Without support, we wouldn't have been able to get it done," Stencel said.
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