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'The State Is Here To Help.' Gov. Brown Tours The Bootleg Fire Zone

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown greets Incident Commander Ian Yocum and other fire officials at a camp located in Bly for firefighters fighting the Bootleg Fire in Klamath and Lake Counties.
Holly Dillemuth
JPR News
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown greets Incident Commander Ian Yocum and other fire officials at a camp located in Bly for firefighters fighting the Bootleg Fire in Klamath and Lake Counties.

Brown visited the fire camp and command headquarters on Wednesday afternoon to see the extent of the massive fire and to promise more support for firefighting and wildfire mitigation efforts.

A masked Oregon Gov. Kate Brown extended an elbow to Incident Commander Ian Yocum — also masked — as she greeted him and several fire officials upon arriving at the Bootleg Fire camp outside of Bly in Klamath County on Wednesday afternoon.

For Brown, it was her first visit to the largest fire in the United States, which she said – and fire officials confirmed - is half the size of Rhode Island. She said the state government stands ready to provide help, and noted that she plans to sign Senate Bill 762 into law on Friday. The measure will boost statewide resources to fight wildfires, as well as promote fire-safe design elements for communities in high-risk fire zones.

The governor acknowledged the struggles local communities are facing this year.

“My heart goes out to the people of the Klamath Basin,” Brown said. “This is a really challenging summer. We know this is going to be an incredibly challenging fire season and obviously we’ve got the challenges around drought as well, so the state is here to help.”

Brown said the state has invested $200 million in wildfire prevention and mitigation efforts, through a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management called the Good Neighbor Authority. But she’s hoping for help from the federal level, too.

“We’re going to need more federal investment and that’s what I talked to the President about a couple of weeks ago,” Brown said. “The entire West is essentially burning up and we’re just going to need more people to fight fire and more people to do the preventative work as well.”

Brown said Oregon has experienced twice as many fires as this time last year.

“We’ve burned anywhere from four to 15 times the amount of acreage,” she said. “And it’s happening at the same time as we are still rebuilding and recovering from the Two Four Two and the Almeda Fires.”

She urged communities throughout the state to prepare for emergency events, especially wildfires.

“We’re going to have to be prepared for these changing climate events,” Brown said.

Cooler weather accompanied by rainfall has lessened the growth of the Bootleg Fire over the past couple of days, giving crews a chance to solidify containment lines around more of the fire. As of Wednesday evening, the fire had burned more than 413,000 acres and was 53 percent contained.

But, fire officials said, hot, dry weather is returning going into the weekend, and officials expect fire behavior will pick up again.

Wildland firefighters will continue to work towards full containment of the fire, while the fire crews trained in protecting houses and other structures had their last shift on Wednesday.

“We feel like the fire’s not going to continue to grow towards communities,” Yocum said. “This fire is getting contained, it’s getting controlled, and we feel really good about our structure folks going home to their families and their home departments.”

Firefighters from dozens of fire departments from across the West have been helping battle the Bootleg Fire.

Holly Dillemuth was JPR's Klamath Basin regional correspondent. She was a staff reporter for the Herald and News in Klamath Falls for over 7 years covering a diverse range of topics, including city government, higher education and business.