Salem, OR—Today, Governor Tina Kotek and agency leaders who manage wildfires and conflagrations provided a briefing as the 2023 wildfire season approaches, including steps Oregonians should take to prepare.
“Wildfires will forever impact our region, and much of our country. The threats will continue to grow as we grapple with hotter, drier conditions due to climate change,” Governor Kotek said. “But we have choices in how we prepare and respond. We can create fire-adapted communities. We can develop safer and more effective responses to support fire personnel.”
Governor Kotek was joined by Oregon Department of Forestry Director Cal Mukumoto and Chief of Fire Protection Mike Shaw, Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz Temple, Oregon Department of Emergency Management Interim Director Matt Garrett, Oregon Military Department Major General Michael Stencel, Public Utility Commission Executive Director Michael Grant, Department of Environmental Quality Director Leah Feldon, Oregon Department of Human Services Mass Care Coordinator Ed Flick and Oregon Health Authority Director of Public Health Rachael Banks.
The Governor briefed members of the press on what subject matter experts anticipate in the 2023 fire season. Her briefing included the following key items:
Drought intensity across the state is less severe than this time last year, though some regions have experienced persistent droughts. Many regions have experienced a high volume of spring rain and are benefitting from a strong snowpack.
Oregonians are likely to see a delayed wildfire season given favorable winter moisture, with precipitation amounts in May and June influencing the start of the season. Wildfire prevention efforts including public information campaigns, early fire detection, leveraging aviation and ground assets for early deployment for a safe and aggressive initial attack are all key to our success this year.
The 2023 fire season will challenge Oregon’s response system at times, particularly in eastern Oregon where fire indices suggest an above average fire season. In terms of wildfire season readiness, there are several challenges including capacity in rural areas that largely rely on volunteer fire services. There will also be competition for national resources as the west continues to grapple with more complex fire seasons. Oregon will continue to rely on Oregon’s Fire Mutual Aid System, which deploys local fire departments across the state to protect our communities.
Agencies are applying lessons learned from 2022, including technological efficiencies, expanding our wildfire detection network, streamlined smoke coordination calls, and simplified templates for air quality advisories.
Oregon has made significant investments in our wildfire protection system in recent years and the Governor expects those investments to continue. Leveraging our statewide wildfire coordination system, utilizing technology and advanced firefighting equipment to our advantage and taking early and aggressive action will be keys to success.
In closing, Governor Kotek said, “It will be up to every single one of us to do our part in preventing human-caused fires before they start.”