By News-Register staff • 

Better weather aids battle against deadly Western wildfire

By ANDREW SELSKY and SARA CLINE Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Diminishing winds and rising humidity helped firefighters battling deadly blazes in Oregon and California, but with dozens of people still missing, authorities in both states feared that the receding flames could reveal many more dead across the blackened landscape.

Oregon's emergency management director said officials were preparing for a possible “mass fatality event,” and the state fire marshal was abruptly placed on administrative leave. More than two dozen people have died in wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington. The White House announced that President Donald Trump would visit California on Monday for a briefing on the fires.

The same smoke that painted California skies orange also helped crews corral the state's deadliest blaze of the year by blocking the sun, reducing temperatures and raising humidity, officials said.

At least 18 people have been killed in recent blazes in California. Oregon authorities have not released an exact death count, but at least eight fatalities were reported from the fires that have taken a toll from one end of the state to the other. Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that tens of thousands of people had been forced to flee their homes. One person was killed in blazes in Washington.

Two large blazes threatened to merge near the most populated part of Oregon, including the suburbs of Portland.

More than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and about 500,000 are in different levels of evacuation zones, having been told to leave or to prepare to do so, Brown said. The governor dialed back a statement late Thursday by the state Office of Emergency Management that said a half-million people had been ordered to evacuate statewide.

Scores of people were missing in Jackson County in the southern area of the state and in Marion County east of Salem, the state capital, Brown told a news conference. Authorities also announced that a man had been arrested on two counts of arson in connection with a fire in southern Oregon.

Searchers found two victims of the so-called Beachie Creek fire near Salem. A 1-year-old boy was killed in wildfires in Washington, authorities said.

Amid the smoke and flame, the Oregon fire marshal was placed on paid leave Saturday. Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton said the crisis demanded an urgent response, which required a leadership change. Fire Marshal Jim Walker was replaced on an acting basis by the chief deputy fire marshal.

Almost 500 firefighters were working on the fires near Portland, which were just a few miles (kilometers) apart. The rugged terrain between them limited efforts to contain the flames, Myers said. If the fires merge, they could generate enough heat to send embers thousands of feet into the air, potentially igniting other areas.

More than 1,500 square miles (3,880 square kilometers) have burned in Oregon during recent days, nearly double the size of a typical year and an area larger than Rhode Island, authorities said.

The land burned in just the past five days amounted to the state’s second-worst fire season, after 2015, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee noted. He called the blazes “climate fires” rather than wildfires.

“This is not an act of God,” Inslee said. “This has happened because we have changed the climate."

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said a 41-year-old man was jailed on two charges of arson for a fire that started Tuesday in the Phoenix area in southern Oregon. The fire that burned hundreds of homes had an ignition point in Ashland, near a spot where a man was found dead. Authorities said the man denied starting the fire.

Officials were working to locate about 50 missing people, Sickler said.

California crews made progress Friday in chopping or bulldozing brush-free lines to control the North Complex fire. Gusting winds that whipped up the flames days earlier eased while smoke blocked out the sun and lowered previously scorching temperatures. Saturday’s high temperature was expected to top out at 80 degrees or less.

Nearly 15,000 firefighters were battling 28 major wildfires across California, although 24 were sparked Thursday and quickly contained.

The North Complex remained the deadliest this year. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea had said 10 bodies were found but on Friday lowered the figure. Remains found in a burned storage shed turned out to be from a resin model of a human skeleton that was used by an anthropology student, he said.

A search continued for 19 missing people.

Back in Oregon, evacuation centers were open across the state.

Kim Carbaugh fled her home Monday in Lyons with her husband, two children and two horses.

“When we were driving away and I could see actual fire, the red and orange flames, at the time I didn’t feel scared, I had so much adrenaline — we just had to leave,” she said Friday from the livestock stables of an evacuation center at the state fairgrounds in Salem.

The site also housed hundreds of animals — dogs, llamas, horses, pigs, cows and chickens. Many people chose to camp or stay in RVs.

Charles Legg sat at a table with his 22-month-old son, who cooed and played with a dinosaur puzzle.

“He’s OK,” Legg said. “He’s not eating as normal. He knows something is going on.”

___

Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus and Manuel Valdes in Phoenix, Oregon; Lisa Baumann and Gene Johnson in Seattle; Brian Melley in Los Angeles; and Terence Chea in Berry Creek, California, contributed to this report.

 

Comments

Don Dix


From the article -- “This is not an act of God,” Inslee said. “This has happened because we have changed the climate."

The Washington governor believes in the unproven hypothesis that humans can change the climate.

The greatest threat of wildfires is power line failure, as has been displayed in California. The burning of the Santiam Canyon is one of those instances, not 'climate change'.

The Almeda Fire near Medford was arson (read article). It wouldn't be a surprise that other fires were also intentional. Through July, humans have caused 90% of fires in Oregon this year. The 10-year average is 355 human-caused fires by the end of July. There have been 400 so far this year. Urban fools, who know little about recreation safety in the woods, have contributed greatly to the rise in numbers.

And since when is lightening not 'an act of God'? Many politicians comically imagine they are God, but anyone with a shred of intelligence knows otherwise.

So, lightening, power line failure, arson, and morons in the woods are considered 'cc'? Wouldn't the phrase 'you can't fix stupid' land squarely on this commentary?

tagup

Clearly the climate IS changing....year after year of drought, combined with 40/50 MPH winds certainly contributed to the current issues, no matter the original cause. It seems prudent that we take any reasonable measures to reduce fires & fire damage severity going forward.

Don Dix

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that, "It's decades of mismanagement of our forests in this country, and it is the failure to tackle climate change, we need to do both, and we can."

Give Brown credit -- at least she admits 'decades of mismanagement' play a big role.

Here's the rub -- one can drive electric cars, install solar panels everywhere, plant windmills for power on every windy hill, and restrict industrial CO2 output -- not one of these actions has any influence on the build-up of deadfall and underbrush in forests. Nor do any of these 'right things to do' reduce the chance that lightening, power line failure, or stupid people in the woods will spark a fire.

Residents of Eagle Creek stayed to defend their area from the wildfire, and pointed to the forest just outside their boundary that was strewn with fuel due to forest mismanagement. They are residents of the forest, and know how to manage and protect property from fire, not some over-educated pinhead sitting in a downtown, air-conditioned office blaming every cause but forest management.

One must inspect any Oregon forest to realize how massive is the build-up on the forest floor -- the area around Sisters is regularly cleaned and the brush piles are burned in the winter -- that's the example Oregon needs to employ simply because it has worked! Otherwise forest fires will burn hotter and advance quicker -- it really is that simple!

tagup

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my guess is that the large majority of forest in Oregon is under federal management....

Don Dix

You are correct, tagup. But the tree-huggers never distinguish between which forests are off limits to clean -- it's an all-inclusive list, county, state, and federal.

The lawsuits to retain natural, primitive areas as they stand (no management at all), guarantees those areas will eventually burn -- naturally!

sbagwell

Oregon: 60% federal, 34% private, 4% state, 2% tribal. Washington: 43% federal, 37% private, 12% state, 8% tribal. California: 58% federal, 39% private, 3% state.

Don Dix

Thanx Steve -- I have never been aware of any land management (cleaning/clearing/burning) lawsuit filed against a tribe (please advise if otherwise) -- and thousands against any particular government entity that dares to try similar action. It matters not who owns the public land when every attempt for correct management gets endlessly tied up in court.



tagup

It does when you-know-who want to put the blame somewhere.....

Don Dix

Remember the special legislative session in August? From that session the forest dept. budget was to be cut (again). Gov. Brown will veto cuts to the Oregon Department of Forestry to preserve $65 million that can be used to help with the historic wildfires that have ravaged the state.

Sen. Fred Girod said, “Governor Brown wants more money for fire suppression and state police, but only with an emergency actively burning down the state’s doorstep. After years of cutting these budgets, the action is a day late and a dollar short."

So the truth is the state (that's state, not feds) has neglected the dept. budget for years to spend elsewhere (likely foolishly). And they were about to do it again! It seems rather obvious where this buck stops, wouldn't you say?

tagup

Considering that only 4% of Oregon’s forest land Is under state management , the impact of The state budget seems minor when looking at the total picture of forest management in Oregon.

RobsNewsRegister

It is irrelevant who 'owns' or 'manages' the land if environmental lawsuits can hamper management or enforce such onerous regulatory burdens that nothing on the ground is actually accomplished.

https://reason.com/2020/09/14/western-wildfires-can-be-prevented-if-burdens-on-forest-management-are-eased/

tagup

It seems relevant when someone At the top of the federal government attempts to place blame on states.....

RobsNewsRegister

What anyone says or doesn't say has no effect regarding relevance of the impact these endless lawsuits had on our forests.

Don Dix

Isn't it glaringly obvious that 'state leadership' (whatever that means) wasn't a bit interested in supporting the forest dept. or it's needs? Back in the day, the state was united behind a slogan -- 'Keep Oregon Green'! -- today, apparently, not so much.

tagup

What’s obvious to me is no matter what the state does it would have little impact on the overall management of Oregon’s forests...

Don Dix

ODF is responsible for managing these areas (by ownership or contract) -- Forest protection district boundaries: Central Oregon, Coos, Douglas, Klamath-Lake, North Cascade, Northeast Oregon, Northwest Oregon, South Cascade, Southwest Oregon, Walker Range, West Oregon, Western Lane.

These are not small, insignificant districts. And these districts are the bulk of the where trees for harvest are grown in Oregon. How does state management of these districts translate to being of 'little impact'?