REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Fire Press Briefing
September 14, 2020
Good afternoon. I’m here to give an update on the fire situation in Oregon, and am joined on the phone by:
● Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief, Doug Grafe;
● Oregon Chief 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.
We now find ourselves one week into this fire event, and without question, our state has been pushed to its limits. It’s hard to wrap our heads around the devastation these fires have caused, and the pain and suffering so many Oregonians have endured over the past few days.
Sadly, we have now learned of 10 fire-related fatalities, as confirmed by our state medical examiner. I am at a loss for words over these deaths. Dan and I are holding these families in our hearts during this difficult time. Again, these are fatalities confirmed by the Oregon state medical examiner. Local medical examiners will continue to report additional fatalities, and the Office of Emergency Management will begin releasing updates on confirmed statewide totals.
As we look toward the next few days, my firefighting teams tell me they are optimistic that the cooler weather coming toward the end of this week will be a tremendous help.
We are incredibly grateful that our calls for assistance are also being answered, with crews from all over the country and Canada coming in to help. For example, we expect structural firefighting teams from North Dakota and Minnesota to join our response this week. Michigan, California and Washington are providing resources to our Emergency Coordination Center. Vermont and Nevada have reached out asking how they can help.
Scores of representatives from FEMA are also now on the ground assisting with the response effort. Additionally, today I sent a letter to the President asking that he declare a major disaster in the state of Oregon.
I just want to say: thank you. We are incredibly grateful for this national support. I want to thank these crews for joining us in this firefight. We can certainly use all the help we can get.
We’ll also be working with the National Guard to deploy approximately 250,000 N95 masks to agricultural workers and impacted Tribes across the state.
Our communities across Oregon are suffering right now. The wildfires burning our state are compounding existing hardships for our Latinx and underserved communities in Southern Oregon, rural Oregonians throughout the Santiam and McKenzie River basins, and tribal communities in Chiloquin.
Additionally, the smoke blanketing the state is a constant reminder that this tragedy has not yet come to an end.
Without question, the immediate need is great. I am grateful for all the local organizations, nonprofits and volunteers working long hours to help Oregonians recover. I encourage anyone who has the means to donate to do so with the Red Cross, the Oregon Food Bank, or their local relief agencies.
However, I think we all know that we’re a long way from recovery.
It feels like a cruel twist of fate that many Oregon communities already disproportionately suffering from the impacts of COVID-19, or the flooding in Umatilla earlier this year, now face even more hardship.
That’s why I’ve asked three of Oregon’s largest foundations — The Ford Family Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation — to establish a fund to help plan for what comes next. Contributions will focus on recovery over the medium- and long-term.
This new fund, called the 2020 Community Rebuilding Fund, will help us invest in long-term recovery, particularly for our most vulnerable communities. Other organizations are welcome to contribute to this fund as a way to help get their donations to those most in need.
I am incredibly grateful for the quick response of these three foundations. They each bring unique expertise and an understanding of the challenges our communities will face in the aftermath of these fires.
For example, Meyer Memorial Trust ensures that equity is at the center of their work, and that vulnerable Oregonians — particularly Latinx and tribal communities — will be centered as we rebuild.
The Ford Family Foundation has a deep understanding of the needs of rural Oregonians. And the Oregon Community Foundation works with every community in the state, bringing diverse voices and donors to the table.
We will have a long road ahead, but I am heartened by these foundations and by all the Oregonians who are coming together right now. Philanthropic dollars serve as critical building blocks and leverage for public and private investments that can help us build back stronger. The 2020 Community Rebuilding Fund is an important next step on our path toward recovery as we build a more resilient Oregon.
I want to end this briefing by highlighting the heroic actions of individual Oregonians.
Like Christiana Rainbow Plews, who most people call Chief Rainbow, the Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Protection District Chief. She and her team were the first ones on the scene at the Holiday Farm Fire, where she immediately called for backup and ordered level 3 evacuations, which enabled as many people as possible to get out of the area safely.
We all know how quickly that fire moved. It ended up traveling 20 miles, destroying Chief Rainbow's own home. A dozen of her district volunteer firefighters also lost their homes, as well as their fire station in Blue River.
Yet through it all, Chief Rainbow and her team have stayed on the front lines of the fire, protecting the homes and lives of as many Oregonians as possible.
She and her team remind us of why we love this state. This is just what we do here in Oregon. We care for each other, no matter what.
Thank you, Chief Rainbow, and to all the folks out there doing what they can do in this crisis – whether it be firefighting, following guidelines from local officials, or donating your time or money. The only way out of this crisis is through it, and we’ll only get through it together.
With that, I will turn it over to our Fire Chief, Doug Grafe.