REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Fire Press Briefing
September 8, 2020
Good afternoon and thank you for joining us.
We are here to give an update on the quickly evolving and urgent fire situation across the state. I’m joined on the phone by Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe, and Oregon Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple. Both Doug and Mariana are out on the frontlines of these fires.
In person, I am joined by Major General Michael Stencel, Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps, and Gabriela Goldfarb of the Oregon Health Authority.
Entering into the Labor Day weekend, we knew that Oregon was facing extreme fire danger due to unseasonably hot, dry temperatures. Unfortunately, we now find ourselves in the middle of a 72-hour window of an extreme fire event, consisting of several significant and growing fires across the state that continue to spread due to high winds — and continue to put Oregonians’ lives at risk.
Almost every year since becoming Governor, I’ve witnessed historic wildfire seasons. Yet, this is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state — and frankly for the entire West Coast.
Since 2:30 this morning, I have declared emergency conflagrations for the Santiam, Lionshead, and Holiday Farm fires. Both Santiam and the Lionshead fires have together burned more than 200,000 acres so far, and we’re seeing over 30,000 acres burned by the Holiday Farm fire.
Thousands of Oregonians have been evacuated from their homes, and many more are at risk. Evacuation orders continue up and down the Valley. In some areas, the situation is so difficult and dangerous that even firefighters are being evacuated.
Hospital and health systems are working together to prepare for overflow patients and planning for potential evacuations. Thank you to our extraordinary National Guard members, who have been helping with evacuations.
Although I could not anticipate something as awful as this, two weeks ago I declared a statewide emergency declaration to allow the most nimble response possible. I declared a statewide state of emergency for wildfire; delegated authority to Oregon State Fire Marshal and the Department of Forestry to utilize all agencies of state government to respond to the wildfire emergency, as coordinated by the Office of Oregon Emergency Management; and authorized the deployment of the National Guard.
And I stand ready to add to, or issue, another order if new resources or needs are identified.
This morning, we stood up our Emergency Command Center and Joint Information Center to coordinate response efforts across the state, including among the three incident management teams we have out in the field right now.
This situation is very dangerous. Wind continues to fuel these wildfires, with devastating consequences across Oregon. People’s homes, lives, and land are at risk.
And it’s not over.
If you are in an evacuation area, please pay close attention and listen to local calls to evacuate as needed — this can save your life, your family, and the lives of our firefighters. That means, if your area is at a Level 2, start to pack your bags. If it’s Level 3, leave immediately.
Marion, Polk, and Lane Counties have also opened up fairgrounds to help with evacuations for livestock, with state vets there checking on livestock.
Additionally, smoke caused by these fires can have negative health effects on Oregonians, especially children and older adults — but also for all of us as we face the COVID pandemic. Depending on where you live in the state, you may already be smelling and seeing dense smoke. Please stay indoors as much as possible right now and be vigilant as the situation rapidly changes.
In closing, I want to add that Portland General Electric, for the first time in their history, initiated a public safety power shutoff, or “PSPS,” last night in the Mt. Hood Corridor area. I commend them for that difficult decision.
There are initial reports that some of these fires in other parts of the state were caused by downed electric power lines. I want to say two things about this: first, our focus right now is on life safety — getting people evacuated and supporting them. In the coming days, there will be an investigation and we will determine the cause of these fires.
And second, with the growing impacts of climate change, it’s likely that this once-in-a-generation wind event in areas not typically at high risk for wildfire will become more common. There will be roles for the state legislature and the Public Utility Commission in ensuring we have sufficient fire safety policies in place to evaluate these changing risks for both investor and consumer-owned utilities.
Finally, we know we have at least another 24 hours of this wind to sustain. The hot and dry weather is only predicted to continue through this weekend. We know our losses will be great; but we know Oregon is strong and will stand together. I stand with you. Our firefighters, forest service, and National Guard stand with you. Friends, family, and neighbors, take care of each other.
I’ll now turn it over to Doug Grafe.