REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Fire Press Briefing
September 11, 2020
I’m here again to give the latest updates on Oregon’s fire situation. First let me acknowledge that flags are at half-staff today in memory of those who perished on this day, September 11th, nineteen years ago. We had incredibly brave first responders running toward the danger and fires then, and we see that heroism again today in Oregon.
I’m joined on the phone by:
● Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief, Doug Grafe;
● Oregon Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal, Mariana Ruiz-Temple;
● General Michael Stencel;
● Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director, Andrew Phelps; and
● Oregon Health Authority, Environmental Public Health Section Manager Gabriela Goldfarb.
Let me start with some good news. The weather system fueling these fires over the past few days has finally broken down — and our firefighting teams tell me they can feel it.
We anticipate cooler air and moisture coming in the next few days, which is extremely good news.
Still, firefighters continue to work around the clock to save lives and property from destruction.
Well over 1 million acres of our land has burned, which is over 1,500 square miles.
Right now, our air quality currently ranks the worst in the world due to these fires. Almost anywhere in the state you can feel this. I have directed the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon OSHA to issue a recommendation to protect outdoor workers from exposure to harmful wildfire smoke. This will aim to eliminate or minimize outside work in places with unhealthy air quality. OHA also recommends that if you’re in an area affected by smoke and ash, you should restrict your physical activity and stay indoors with the windows and doors closed, to the greatest extent possible.
More than 40,000 Oregonians have been evacuated. And approximately 500,000 Oregonians are currently in evacuation zones — that means 500,000 people are either at a level 1, 2 or 3 evacuation alert. Level 1 means to pack up valuables and monitor the situation. Level 2 means get ready to evacuate on a moment’s notice, if needed. And Level 3 means leave immediately.
I can’t say this enough: if you are notified by local emergency officials to evacuate, please do so immediately. You may not get a second chance.
At the same time, if you have not yet gotten that Level 3 alert — remember, that’s the one that tells you to immediately go — please monitor your situation closely, but do not panic or try to leave immediately. We need to make sure roads stay open for those who are in urgent fire zones.
I also implore all Oregonians to stay out of the fire zones right now. I know that rumors of looting are alarming, and that it’s unsettling not to know whether your home is still standing. Let me assure you that we have the National Guard and Oregon State Police monitoring the situation and preventing looting.
However, if you try to go back, you are not only putting your own life at risk, but also those of firefighters and first responders who may have to rescue you.
I must make this request to media as well. To all our reporters and media outlets, thank you for so quickly and diligently informing the public of this urgent and evolving situation. Right now, I ask that you too stay away from fire zones, so that our first responders can do their jobs.
I know it’s been a rough few days. Many Oregonians are suffering right now, whether displaced themselves or worried about their families and communities while watching our beautiful state burn.
We are doing everything we can to fight these fires —teams on the ground are showing incredible creativity and innovation in addressing this crisis and getting Oregonians the help they need.
Yesterday evening, we learned that our federal emergency declaration was approved. This is good news. It will bring much needed federal aid to Oregon, including additional firefighting resources, search and rescue, and assistance for temporary housing for those who have been displaced.
As of now, we have early reports from our state police that there are dozens of missing persons related to the fires, specifically in Jackson, Lane and Marion counties. We will keep you updated as we gather more information.
I’m grateful to be able to offer some improving news today, and even more grateful for the acts of love and support I’m seeing in every community across the state. Even in the darkest of times, Oregonians are stepping up to help one another in extraordinary ways.
Like Sarah in Mollala, who was forced to leave her home and evacuate with her kids. Once safe, she returned to deliver water to firefighters on the frontlines.
I’ve been told that there have been so many donations to the Expo Center in Jackson County that they had to ask people to stop donating. The center is filled with mountains of blankets, pillows and supplies.
Restaurants like Conway’s in Springfield and La Margarita in Salem are providing free hot meals to Oregonians impacted by the fires.
That’s what we do here in Oregon. We take care of one another.
And this is what gives me confidence that we will come out of this disaster, and we will be stronger for it.
Thank you for taking care of each other. Thank you to our firefighters, our National Guard members, and Red Cross volunteers.
And please remember, you can visit wildfire.oregon.gov or your local emergency management agency’s website for the latest updates in your community.
With that, I will turn it over to Fire Chief Doug Grafe.