REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Fire Press Briefing
September 10, 2020
Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us.
I’m here to give another update on the wildfires spreading across our state.
I’m joined on the phone by:
● Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief, Doug Grafe;
● General Michael Stencel; and
● Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director, Andrew Phelps.
I’m joined in person by Gabriela Goldfarb of the Oregon Health Authority.
Here’s the latest as we find ourselves 72 hours into this crisis:
We’re now approaching over 900,000 acres burned across our state. To put that into perspective, over the last ten years an average of 500,000 acres burn in an entire year. We’ve seen nearly double that in the past 3 days.
We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state.
We know there are fire-related fatalities, and as soon as we are able to provide confirmed information, we will do so.
Approximately 30-40,000 Oregonians have evacuated so far, and evacuations are ongoing. Please stay vigilant and listen to your local officials and firefighters.
Please visit wildfire.oregon.gov or your local emergency management agency’s website for the latest updates in your community.
If you’re advised to evacuate, please do so immediately. You may not get a second chance.
We now have 10 incident management teams managing fires across Oregon. Firefighters continue to work around the clock, putting their lives on the line to save the lives of others. They’re joined by National Guard members, Army Corps engineers and Red Cross volunteers conducting lifesaving evacuations, completing structural assessments and providing food and shelter to those in need.
Their efforts are nothing short of heroic.
Today marks what we hope is the final day of the wind event that put us in this urgent fire situation.
But the weather system is not yet giving us a reprieve. My teams are telling me that while wind dynamics are changing, we are now facing unstable air conditions that continue to make response efforts very difficult.
These weather dynamics are creating unpredictable movement of the fires across the landscape.
While our state reels from this horrific firestorm of dry weather, hot wind and drought conditions, this will not be a one time event. Unfortunately it is a bellwether of the future. We are feeling the acute impacts of climate change. We are seeing its devastating effects in Oregon, on the entire West Coast, and frankly, throughout the world.
Today you’ll hear from Fire Chief Doug Grafe with a fuller report, but in the next day we hope to be able to transition from our focus on evacuations and saving lives, to a focus on fighting and containing the fires directly.
I want you to know that we are doing everything we can to fight these fires.
● We have tapped our National Guard members and are looking for additional capacity from surrounding states. General Stencel will give a more detailed report on how the national guard are being deployed.
● 30 trained crews from the Department of Corrections are currently out in the field working with our firefighting teams.
● We’ve put out a national emergency request for additional help, and as of last night had secured strike teams that will be coming in from Utah today.
● We’ve put a request into the U.S. Department of Defense for a battalion of active duty military who are trained in firefighting.
● In addition, a number of our firefighters are scheduled to return to classes at our universities and community colleges. I’ve asked both our universities and community colleges to work with students who are trained as firefighters so they can continue to fight fires, and not be penalized for missing school. Oregon’s universities and community colleges, their faculty, and staff are valuable partners in this effort and I thank them for their flexibility.
Yesterday afternoon I began the process to set up the Governor’s Disaster Cabinet, which will streamline state agency coordination and distribution of resources as we deal with the vast impacts of this disaster — from social services to health impacts to agriculture.
This is extremely difficult for many, many Oregonians. Thousands of people loaded their cars with precious belongings, pets, and as much as they could quickly carry. They are sleeping away from their homes, in motels, on cots in shelters, or with friends or family. Folks are scared and looking for information.
Know that we are doing everything in our power to support you. We are with you. We will help people stay safe and deal with the aftermath.
We will get through this.
With that, I will turn it over to Fire Chief, Doug Grafe.
Thank you to our firefighters, to our national guard, first responders and Red Cross. I am incredibly grateful for your time and energy, and for everything you are doing to save lives.
And to those who have lost your homes, please know that we are with you. I know the situation is bleak right now, but we will get through this.