State of emergency declared for Clackamas County wildfires
Multiple wildfires burning across Clackamas County have forced the Board of County Commissioners to declare a state of emergency.
County commissioners convened an emergency meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8, to unanimously approve the emergency declaration which opens resources and positions the county's disaster management office to respond to the six fires currently burning.
Those fires include the Redland/Potter Road fire in Oregon City, the Unger Road fire in Colton, the Wilhoit/Bird Road fire in Molalla, the Dowty Fire near Estacada and the Beachie Creek fire stradling the Marion-Clackamas county line near Stayton and has merged with the Lionhead Fire which started near the northeast side of Mt. Jefferson and spread northwest.
According to Emergency Management, the Sublimity Fire in Marion County is also moving toward Clackamas County.
"It is just crazy across the state," said Nancy Bush, county incident commander. "Right now, the state Office of Emergency Management and state Fire Marshal's Office have no more resources to give."
According to Bush, the several fires burning in and around Clackamas County caused evacuations of homes late last night including 15 in Oregon City, 28 in Colton and 37 Molalla. She also reported that the entire city of Scotts Mills near the county's southern border with Marion County has also been evacuated.
Bush also reported to the commissioners that the Timber Lake Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center near Ripplebrook on the Clackamas River was forced to be evacuated. Fortunately, Bush said, there were no children there at the time, just adult staff members.
"The city of Estacada worked with them and was able to get everyone out safely in coordination with Clackamas Fire," Bush said.
Clackamas Fire District #1 Chief Fred Charlton also appeared before county commissioners Tuesday to give a brief update on the battles going on throughout the county and beyond. According to Charlton, his district had been preparing throughout the Labor Day weekend for these events with the high-winds coming up over Mt. Hood and coming down the Highway 26 corridor.
"We've been coordinating with PGE for public power safety shutdowns in the vent of these wildfires," Charlton said. "Things really took a turn for the worse at about 7 p.m. last night. Fires kicked up and started off with a multi-alarm brush fire that spread into a structure in Oregon City, followed by what is known as the Unger Road fire in the Colton District."
According to Charlton, the Unger Road fire is still not under control as of about 11 a.m. Tuesday and still requires firefighting resources.
The Wilhoit Fire south of Molalla is over 125 acres and not contained at this time. According to Charlton they've deployed bulldozers to help fight the fire and aircraft could be seen deployed to help support firefighters on the ground working to contain the blaze. A second fire near Molalla named the Macksburg Fire has impacted the lumber mill in the town and stretched resources particularly thin.
Charlton also said that the Redland/Potter Road fire in Oregon City continues to cause problems as winds pick up and halt progress of any containment.
According to Charlton, his agency is currently receiving assistance from several local fire districts including Gresham Fire, Portland Fire, Tualatin Valley Fire, Colton Fire, Molalla Fire, Lake Oswego Fire, Sandy Fire, Hoodland Fire and the Oregon Department of Forestry. In total, 43 units are currently working in conjunction to assist Clackamas Fire as it coordinates response to these wildfires.
"Right now, firefighters are performing exceptionally well. We haven't had any injuries or loss of life, Charlton said. "We have had a number of structures either lost or impacted, and certainly, as Nancy talked about, we've executed a number of evacuations last night."
Clackamas Fire, with the aid of several surrounding agencies, managed to contain several dangerous fires on Labor Day. A fire quickly spreading through blackberry bushes on Agnes Avenue in Oregon City could be seen from I-205, but firefighters held it back at several structures. The second fire off Bradley and Redland roads in unincorporated Oregon City was contained to 10 acres over the course of six hours.
County Chair Jim Bernard and his fellow commissioners thanked Charlton and all the agencies working in concert to help get these fires under control and protect those who live near them.
According to Bush, the emergency declaration approved by county commissioners Tuesday will help open emergency resources set aside for events such as these to help pay for firefighting as well as sheltering assistance for those who have been forced to evacuate.
The declaration also allows the county to implement certain rules as long as a state of emergency exists such as curfews, prohibiting gatherings in public spaces or streets, barricading certain streets or roads from public entry, evacuations, closing taverns and bars in the area of fires, committing to mutual aid agreements with nearby jurisdictions, redirect funds for emergency use and order other such measures that county disaster management deems necessary.
According to Bush, the county will track costs related to responding and will seek extra assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which does have fire dollars that are available to jurisdictions like Clackamas Fire and others.
Clackamas County residents who live in the wildland-urban interface and in rural areas near where fires are currently burning are asked to tune into county emergency notifications so they can receive information and emergency updates in real time. They can do so by subscribing to #ClackCo public alerts here.
Clackamas Fire and neighboring agencies request all residents eliminate any open flame. If possible create a defensible space around your home. Cut down grasses and vegetation up against homes and clear away any burning materials that may ignite.
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