Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard ready to evacuate his home
Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard believes that his 20 years in politics has conditioned him for this moment when his county is facing tremendous disruption and destruction due to wildfires that threaten communities throughout.
In an interview with Pamplin Media Group on Friday, Bernard said that the threat of fires in Molalla, Colton, Estacada, Oregon City and other nearby areas had him truly shaken on Tuesday.
"I was damn scared. I live in Canby, and my backyard was pitch black. The wind was strong and it felt like the fire was at my backdoor," Bernard said. "I understand how residents in our rural communities like Estacada and Molalla must feel as the fire approaches."
But as the week has progressed and he's played liaison between local, state and federal agencies all working toward the same goal, he's gained confidence that the professionals on the ground — including firefighters, law enforcement and emergency management leaders — have a handle on the situation and are making the best decisions possible to preserve life and take control of these wildfires.
"I think what comes next is entirely up to the professionals," Bernard said. "What comes after the fires being in control is the County Commission will go out, listen and direct people to the support they need."
According to Bernard, one of the major concerns rippling throughout Clackamas County right now is the fear of looting in areas where Level 3 evacuation orders have been issued. Bernard said he's personally received dozens of reports of looting, including people who have seen thieves breaking into their homes via doorbell cameras.
With these fears in mind, the board of county commissioners yesterday gave the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office the authority to set a curfew, but whether or not that will be enough to dispel the threat of looting is unseen.
"(The board) couldn't come to consensus on the curfew, but we know that people don't just break into houses from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., they're doing this in broad daylight," he said. "I think any area under evacuation orders, no one should be allowed back in."
Bernard also mentioned that he's hopeful that weather becoming favorable to firefighting mixed with the arrival of new state and federal firefighting resources will help local fire agencies make some progress in stopping these fires from spreading any closer to the communities they currently threaten. He's happy to see the crews of Clackamas Fire Dist. No. 1 and other local fire agencies received some much needed support, particularly after an exchange with Chief Fred Charlton earlier this week in which Charlton expressed how his crews were running on fumes.
Although Bernard's home in Canby isn't currently directly threatened, he is in a Level 2 "BeSet" evacuation order, and he's got his truck packed, boat hooked up and filled with his valuable possessions. He's urging his fellow Clackamas County residents to be prepared as well and to get out when they're told.
"I'm a fairly emotional guy, so it's hard to imagine what people are experiencing right now. All I can say is that the Board of County Commissioners loves this county, we respect you and will do everything we can for the residents of this county to save your lives," Bernard said. "But property is replaceable. If a fire is approaching, please leave, and leave now. If you're in an area like I am, be ready. "
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