Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said this afternoon that “dozens are missing” amid wildfires. State officials are preparing to find bodies amid the rubble that remains of small towns caught in the path of uncontrolled blazes.
Andrew Phelps, who directs the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said state officials expect a “mass fatality event” from the fires. Entire neighborhoods in towns like Talent, Phoenix and Detroit have burned to their foundations. “The long term recovery is going to last years,” Phelps said.
More than 40,000 Oregonians, roughly 2% of the state’s population, have been evacuated, the governor said. The National Weather Service’s Portland office said the fires had burned roughly 10% of the forests on the west slopes of the Cascade mountain range in Northwest Oregon.
But Brown offered a little hope today. “The weather system fueling these fires the past few days has finally broken down,” Brown said. “And our firefighting teams tell me they can feel it.”
Some 500,000 Oregonians, or 10% of the population, are currently in level 1, 2, or 3 evacuation zones. That doesn’t mean they’ve all been evacuated, or even that they will be. Level 1 means “be on high alert,” level 2 means “be ready to leave at a moment’s notice,” and level 3 means “leave immediately.”
Multnomah County officials on Friday afternoon said that while fires have approached unsettlingly close to the border of Oregon’s most populous county, they do not pose an immediate danger to Portland.
“The threat of wildfire is not increasing in Multnomah County,” officials wrote. “Clackamas Fire and Portland Fire & Rescue confirm the fires in Clackamas County are not moving in a way that would shift any part of Multnomah County to an evacuation level. As a result, there are no orders of evacuation in Multnomah County.”
Brown pleaded for people to not leave their towns unless they are in an evacuation zone. “We need to make sure that the roads are open for those who are in urgent fire zones,” she said. On top of this, she also asked no one to return to their homes until it is safe to do so.
“I know rumors of looting are extremely alarming and it’s unsettling not to know if your home is still standing,” Brown said. But this type of action puts yourself and first responders at risk, she explained. Brown also promised that the National Guard and Oregon State Police are monitoring the evacuated areas and working to prevent looting.
The federal government is also supplying Oregon with resources. This morning, Brown spoke with President Donald Trump over the phone, she said. “He said you have all of our support, please let us know what you need, and God bless Oregon,” Brown explained.
Brown expanded on her comments she made yesterday about the effects of global warming on the situation. “I think there’s no question that the changing climate is exacerbating what we are seeing on the ground,” Brown said. “I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to be aware that climate change is going to impact how we live, our economy, our culture and that we all need to be making changes accordingly. It is going to continue to challenge Oregon, the country, and the world.”
Brown extended her commitment on climate change by pledging to implement executive orders reducing carbon emissions and backing further legislation. That won’t prove easy: Much of the state, including many of the places hit hardest by fires this week, opposes restrictions on trucking and logging.
Despite positive weather conditions, the situation is still dangerous. Not only do fires still rage, but the smoke and poor air quality has remained all around the state. Brown asked citizens to “restrict your physical activity and stay indoors with the windows and doors closed to the greatest extent possible.”
But she said the weather forecast was encouraging. “We anticipate cooler air and moisture coming in the next few days which is really good news,” Brown said.