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Disasters and Accidents

Gov. Kate Brown Tours The Aftermath Of The Almeda Fire

brownvisit5.jpg
Jamie Lusch
/
Mail Tribune
Oregon Governor Kate Brown tours damage caused by the Almeda Fire in Talent, accompanied by Incident Commander Scott Magers, with the state Fire Marshal's Office on Sept. 21, 2020.

Governor Kate Brown came to the Rogue Valley Monday to get a first-hand look at the devastation caused by the Almeda Fire. After her tour of the damage in Phoenix and Talent, the governor spoke via cell phone with JPR’s Liam Moriarty about what she saw and what the state government can do to help.

Liam Moriarty: Governor what did you see today when you were touring the Almeda fire?

Gov. Kate Brown: The devastation is horrific. It obviously looks like a bomb went off in southern Oregon and my heart goes out to all of the families impacted by this horrific wildfire.

LM: Was there something in particular that stuck out for you as being particularly noteworthy?

KB: There were a number of things. I met with a number of our heroic firefighters and law enforcement, both Sheriff and Oregon State police officers. We have to be so incredibly proud of these men and women, who did extraordinary things to save so many lives. The thing that really stuck out for me was the challenges for these families that had been impacted by the horrific wildfires; the loss of homes, the loss of photos, of memories, of dogs and cats who are so much a part of their families and how challenging it is going to be for all of them to rebuild.

But here's what I do know; Oregonians are tough. We're resilient and we are very creative and we're going to work extremely hard to make sure that all of these families have the tools and the resources they need to recover from this challenge.

LM: So Governor, what is the state able to do to help at this point?

KB: I think we can coordinate our efforts for example for debris removal. These devastating fires caused hazardous material waste. We can coordinate the cleanup efforts. We can convene the efforts to figure out how we get housing units built in very short periods of time. We can make sure that we're being innovative and creative around land use planning and zoning issues. And we can all work together to make sure that we rebuild our communities in such a way that they will be safer and stronger and more resilient.

LM: One of the concerns that have been expressed locally is that much of the area that was burned in this fire was some of our fairly small stock of affordable housing and there's some concern that this land, once it's cleared, could be redeveloped into higher priced housing and squeeze out working people even more. Is there anything the state could do to help in that regard?

KB: Absolutely. I think the state can play a role to make sure that our most vulnerable community members, our most historically underserved families, have access to affordable housing that they need to stay in these communities. We know that these families are the backbone of our economy. We want them to be able to afford to live here and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen.

LM: One more question Governor ... What can the state do to help prevent similar tragedies in the future?

KB: Moving forward, I think there are three critical things. Number one, climate change. This is definitely a bellwether of the future and I think it's critically important that the leadership at the local level the state level and the federal level all work together to tackle climate change. We have to be more adaptive and we have to be more resilient to changing weather conditions.

Secondly, I had a $200 million package (in the last legislative session) and that would have invested in fuel reduction on our public lands, our state public land and it would have put people back to work in our timber-dependent rural communities. That package failed. I am going to bring that package back but it needs to be informed by what has happened over the last couple of weeks. And the third piece is emergency management. I think we have all learned that Oregonians across the state need to be better prepared in the event of emergency, whether it's a wildfire, flooding or Cascadia earthquake. And we also need to make sure that we have better systems so that Oregonians get as much information as possible as quickly as possible.

LM: Thank you for your time, Governor.