REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Fire Press Briefing
September 17, 2020
I’m here to give another update on Oregon’s fire situation, and am joined on the phone by:
● Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief, Doug Grafe;
● Oregon State Fire Marshal, Mariana Ruiz-Temple;
● Oregon National Guard, General Michael Stencel;
● Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director, Andrew Phelps; and
● Oregon Health Authority’s Environmental Public Health Section Manager Gabriela Goldfarb.
And I’m joined here in person by Kris Strickler, Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.
I just want to start by saying that my teams tell me a storm event coming in today will bring welcomed moisture, both along the coast and along both the west and east slopes of the Cascades. This is a good sign. There are always challenges with a storm like this, such as winds and lightning strikes, but our firefighting teams are very grateful for the rain.
My teams also tell me that we’re making significant progress on containing some of these fires, and Fire Chief Doug Grafe will speak more to that in a moment.
Since my last briefing, I have seen up close what these fires have done to our communities, to our land, and to our Oregon.
Yesterday I traveled to the frontline of the Beachie Creek fire, where the damage and devastation is all encompassing, and quite shocking.
I spoke with firefighters from the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Santiam Unit, who have been responding to fires in the canyon since Labor Day evening. As you can imagine, what they’ve experienced over the last week and a half has been intense, heartbreaking and very difficult.
Despite having only three engines, these firefighters ran from one call to the next, trying desperately to protect their communities. And although they wanted to quite literally work 24/7, safety is a top priority and they needed to eat and rest. They rallied at their office in Lyons, only to be awoken a short time later to evacuate the building because it, too, had caught fire.
The first thought that crossed their minds was to grab their equipment and engines so they could continue doing their jobs. And that’s what they did. But the building where they’ve trained, worked, and bonded together as a team was ultimately destroyed by the flames.
I also had an opportunity to talk to the NW Incident Management Team 13’s Incident Commander and saw the team’s original command post yesterday, near the Gates School building. Nothing remains but the skeletal structure of its door, with windows blown out.
Meeting those firefighters, and learning of the heroic actions they’ve taken to save others during this crisis, has only strengthened my resolve to make sure Oregon has what it needs to rebuild.
I was happy to see earlier this week that my request for a Presidential Federal Disaster Declaration was granted quickly. I asked the federal government to waive the normal period of review for this so we could open up those FEMA resources swiftly.
One way I know this aid will help is in the form of Disaster Unemployment Assistance for Oregonians who are newly out of work because of the fires. We are already working to implement this assistance as quickly as possible, and although it’s a manual process, we anticipate being able to start making DUA payments by next week.
Director Phelps will give more details of how this FEMA aid package will help get Oregonians back on their feet.
Our Small Business Navigator hotline, which we set up a few months ago to help businesses deal with the impacts of COVID-19, is now also equipped to answer questions about wildfire resources for businesses. They are available to help our small businesses navigate issues like accessing insurance, how to set up structural assessments of their businesses, SBA loans and more. Folks can learn more at wildfire.oregon.gov or by calling 833-0604-0880.
I know we have a long road ahead, but time and again I am in awe of the dedicated and brave people who have been doing anything and everything it takes to help their fellow Oregonians.
To our firefighters, first responders, National Guard members, public servants — and to Oregonians who are helping their neighbors out during these difficult times: Thank you.
I do want to add that in talking with the incident management team yesterday, they all went out of their way to say that the real heroes of the Beachie Creek fire in terms of protecting lives and saving structures were the local community members, the majority of them volunteers, who worked tirelessly to save their communities.
Even amid the shockingly quick devastation that occurred last week, I heard loud and clear that at no point did their spirits falter. In fact, it is this spirit that persists among our first responders, volunteers and so many Oregonians that continue to work on the fires, continue to care for evacuees, and continue to rebuild our state.
With that, I will turn it over to Fire Chief Doug Grafe.