Firefighters working to gain control of the several wildfires burning throughout Clackamas County will soon be receiving some much needed support.
Nancy Bush, incident commander with Clackamas County disaster management, informed the board of county commissioners Thursday morning that both federal and state assets are in route to give support to nearly a dozen fire agencies currently on the ground.
Bush told commissioners that a team of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) firefighters out of Texas would be arriving within the next 24 hours, as well as a team of five fire engines out of Utah.
Air support is also said to be arriving soon, Bush said.
The Oregon Department of Forestry has now taken over two fires in Clackamas County: the Dowty Road Fire near Estacada which is estimated to have burned 2,200 acres and is at 10-15% containment; and the Wilhoit Fire in Molalla which has burned approximatey 500 acres and is also just 10-15% contained.
County commissioners were also informed that multiple fires burning in the area could be rolled into one complex — two or more fires located in the same area, under a single command.
Bush said it is likely that the Riverside and Dowty Road Fires could become a single "Clackamas" Complex by the end of the day. The actual name of the complex has yet to be determined, she said.
"I just want to say to everyone who is listening, has evacuated and is following our instructions, thank you," Bush said. "It's our top priority to make sure our residents are safe and getting information out as quickly and efficiently as we can."
According to Bush, labeling a series of fires as a complex will open up local, state and federal resources to help support incident command in Clackamas County.
County Chair Jim Bernard said he received a call from the Oregon National Guard last night notifying him that there are helicopters on the ground that they've been unable to get into the air to help in the fight due to heavy smoke and strong wind. He also received a call from Sen. Ron Wyden, who let him know that Oregon's federal delegation is aware of the perils currently facing Clackamas County and that they're working to find more resources to help fight these fires.
Commissioner Paul Savas said he was happy to hear Bush report that the severe wind that has caused headaches for fire agencies in trying to gain control of these individual wildfires is dying out and is expected to stay fairly calm over the next few days, providing an opportunity for firefighters to make some progress on containment.
With that news, Savas asked whether residents of the urban areas of Clackamas County can consider themselves safe.
"That's a tricky question, we've still got some very active fires," Bush said. "The weather is helping us right now because the winds are dying down, but we still have very hot and dry weather. Our concern is that people need to be vigilant. Don't be barbecuing, don't be doing some of the things you'd normally be doing because we're very susceptible right now."
Commissioner Sonya Fischer asked Bush about rumors of local residents refusing to evacuate, to which Bush confirmed there have been some cases where residents have not wanted to leave their homes.
Bush said that the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office is doing sweeps of neighborhoods under Level 3 "GoNow" evacuation orders and have pleaded with residents to get out.
"If we give you a Level 3, you have to go," Bush said. "It's so critical because we have limited resources and our firefighters have to go back in to make sure people are out which also puts others in danger."
Fischer also took a moment to dispel rumors that have cropped up in certain social media circles that Antifa and Black Lives Matter are coordinating arson strikes to start these wildfires. She said law enforcement agencies have no evidence that either group has engaged in looting of areas affected by the fires and evacuations.
"The sheriff's office has not reported any looting," Bush told the commissioners. "They are putting more staff out to patrol those areas that have been evacuated."
Bernard thanked Fischer for posing the question since he himself had wanted to clear up those rumors.
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