Firefighters Make Significant Progress Battling Deadly OR Wildfires

Wildfires in Oregon
This drone photo provided by Michael Mann shows the Oregon Capitol building, with its "Oregon Pioneer" bronze sculpture atop the dome, with skies filled with smoke and ash from wildfires as a backdrop in Salem, Ore., on Sept. 8, 2020. Fires continued to rage across the West Coast on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (Michael Mann via AP)

By SARA CLINE Associated Press/Report for America

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s wildfires have “turned a corner” as firefighters continue to make significant progress containing the flames, but Oregonians still face a long road to recovery, Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday.

Officials are hopeful that rain, which is expected during the next three days, will help in the fight against the remaining seven large blazes in Oregon.

“A little over two weeks ago, we faced unseasonably dry, windy and hot weather conditions — what developed in the days to follow was an all encompassing fire event, unlike Oregon has ever seen,” Brown said during an update on the situation Wednesday.”

Nine people have died from the wildfires and five remain missing.

Approximately 1,500 square miles (3,880 square kilometers) have burned in Oregon. Officials say, prior to this year, the average of land burned each year in Oregon for the last ten years was roughly half that.

Doug Grafe, the chief of Fire Protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, announced that the wildfires have cost $78 million so far, and by the end of the season could reach $100 million.

Firefighters and response resources have been provided from 47 states, Grafe said.

“That’s an incredible number,” Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said. “I don’t know if I can recall a disaster in our nation’s history that has seen a response equal to that.”

But even with the increased response, firefighters are still battling seven large fires. One of the largest blazes is the Lionshead Fire, which has burned nearly 320 square miles (828 square kilometers) and is 15% contained.

Grafe said he is hopeful that cool and wet weather, which is expected to remain in Oregon through Saturday, will bring relief.

“Really good conditions are coming our way relative to rain, for the next 72 hours,” Grafe said. “That is really going to be helpful, up the containment.”

Grafe said it is likely that firefighters will continue to fight the “megafires” — defined as having scorched 100,000 acres or more — through mid-October when there is “heavy and consistent” rain.

So far, nearly 2,270 residences have been destroyed and 1,556 other structures by the fires.

“As we pivot from the urgent nature of disaster response towards recovery I want to acknowledge as well that the coming days, weeks and months will also be very challenging,” Brown said.

Have seen disasters in Oregon in the past other fires, floods and storms but “we have never seen anything like this.”

Officials said more than 4,250 Oregonians have applied for FEMA assistance, with more than $7 million in aid approved.

The American Red Cross continues to find shelter for nearly 2,700 people at hotels and motels as the Housing Task Force searches for temporary housing solutions.

“After a wildfire eventually new growth begins to take grip on the forest floor. Some types of trees actually come back stronger after fire,” Brown said. “That’s exactly what Oregon is going to do — rebuild and regrow even stronger. ”

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