Gov. Brown declares heat State of Emergency in Oregon
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a heat state of emergency Tuesday after the National Weather Service predicted "dangerously hot" weather starting on Wednesday, Aug. 11.
"Oregon is facing yet another extreme heat wave, and it is critical that every level of government has the resources they need to help keep Oregonians safe and healthy," Brown said in the Aug. 10 announcement. "I encourage Oregonians to take proactive steps to keep themselves and their families safe, including drinking plenty of fluids, taking advantage of cooling centers, and checking in on neighbors, friends and loved ones."
The declaration is intended to ensure additional resources are available to respond to forecasts of excessively high temperatures. It was triggered by the need for state agencies to assist local and tribal jurisdictions in providing for the health and safety of their residents. Multiple days of extreme heat with little or no cooling overnight also may impact critical infrastructure, causing utility outages and transportation disruptions.
According to the announcement, Brown has directed the Office of Emergency Management to activate the state's Emergency Coordination Center to coordinate essential protective measures. She also has directed state agencies to provide any assistance requested by the emergency management office to support response efforts.
"Heat-related illnesses are preventable — all Oregonians are encouraged to learn the symptoms of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses. Oregonians who do not have air conditioning in their homes are strongly encouraged to make a plan today to find a cool location they can access during the heat wave. Additionally, all Oregonians are asked to check in on vulnerable friends, family, and neighbors who may be susceptible to extreme heat," the announcement said.
Multnomah County and the City of Portland issued similar declaration intended to coordinate responses to the heat.
"This tool gives us the flexibility to respond to the heat wave and to alert everyone that heat is dangerous especially for isolated older adults, people who work outdoors, children and pets,'' said Chair Deborah Kafoury. "There can be no doubt after June that extreme heat can kill and we are treating these events like the health hazard they are.''
"This emergency declaration highlights the reality that climate change is hitting closer to home and causing significant harm to Portlanders," stated Mayor Ted Wheeler. "The time to take the climate crisis seriously was years ago. These extreme heat events demand everyone's attention – and action immediately."Information on cooling centers and other resources can be found at 211info.
Excessive Heat Warning issued
"Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities," the weather service warned on Tuesday. It predicted the highest temperatures from Wednesday through Saturday.
Although likely not as hot as the late June heat wave that reached 116 degrees, the weather service still advised residents to take precautions as it issued an Excessive Heat Warning.
The warning came days after the Oregon Medical Examiner's Office said the late June heat wave officially claimed 96 Oregon lives, with the majority of the victims in Portland.
The medical examiner increased the confirmed death toll from 83 when it released the names, addresses and other information about the victims on Friday, Aug. 6. The details were only released after public records requests by major news organization were upheld by the Oregon attorney general and the Multnomah County district attorney.
State and local official have promised to respond better than during the June heat wave. Indoor cooling centers and outdoor misting stations are scheduled to open in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. Locations and travel help is available by calling the fully-staffed 211 referral center.
Portland addresses were listed for 57 — or 59% — of the June victims. According to the release, they lived in the following parts of town:
• Northeast Portland: 17 deaths
• Southeast Portland: 26 deaths
• North Portland: 3 deaths
• Northwest Portland: 5 deaths
• Southwest Portland: 6 deaths
Two hyperthermia deaths each were documented in both Gresham, Hillsboro and Milwaukie. One death was reported in Beaverton.
The additional 13 deaths confirmed in the release did not change the demographics of the victims. Most were older (at least 61% were over 65) and, according to a report released last month by Multnomah County, largely lived alone without air conditioning.
Contrary to statements by some elected officials, the victims were not disproportionately people of color. The vast majority of those who died were white. Of the seven deaths listed as non-white, three were African-American/Black, two were Native American, one was Asian and another was Pacific Islander. Information on race was unlisted for two people. Four people were identified as Hispanic.
At least six of the people who died were homeless, with two living in their cars.
In addition, the new data reveals that most people died on Tuesday, June 29, which was the day after the highest temperature reached 116 degrees. The first fatality was documented on June 24. The last death ruled as hyperthermia was dated July 17.
The medical examiner previously said the heat was suspected in 116 deaths. It is unclear if the other 10 are still under investigation.
The warning came just before the United Nations released a report on Monday that said climate change driven by greenhouse gas emissions is increasing and contributing to severe weather events. Climate scientists who studied the deadly June heat wave in the Pacific Northwest concluded it would have been virtually impossible without climate change. In the region's current climate, they calculated the likelihood of such extreme heat occurring as 1 in 1,000.
People living in Central and Eastern Oregon also are likely to see triple-digit heat again this week, with highs predicted up to 109 degrees in The Dalles on Friday.
"Heat highlights are likely starting Thursday and may extend into next week, with overnight lows hovering around 70 degrees through the Lower Columbia Basin," the National Weather Service's Pendleton office reported.
The other issue is how the heat wave will affect Western wildfires.
"High-level smoke will be denser to the south near Medford and the state line," KOIN 6 News Meteorologist Joseph Dames reported on Monday. "We will have to monitor the smoke through the week because, if we have a surge that finds a way to the north in the valley, it is possible that the wildfire smoke keeps our temperatures slightly cooler. For now, you will have mostly smoke-free sky around the northern Willamette Valley."
Answers first hidden
The medical examiner originally fought the release of names and addresses of the June victims, citing the confidentiality of death investigations. Five news organization, including the Portland Tribune, filed public records request for the information and appealed the denial to the Oregon attorney general and Multnomah County district attorney, both of whom ordered it to be released.
The Oregonian/Oregon Live, one of the other news organizations, quickly reported that one in five of the victims lived in RV or mobile home parks. At least five of those deaths occurred in Portland, three in an outer southeast Portland mobile home parks and two in the same mobile home park in Cully in Northeast Portland. Two took place at a mobile home park in Milwaukie which serves people 55 and older, the Oregonian reported.
Oregon Public Broadcasting and KOIN 6, news partners of Pamplin Media Group, contributed to this article.
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