Officials optimistic that rain will ease multiple wildfires
State officials were optimistic that rain forecast for Thursday, Sept. 17, will help thousands of firefighters bring Oregon's wildfires under control.
But the rain will come with lightning and winds that may not help.
"We have made some great progress," Doug Grafe, fire protection chief for the Oregon Department of Forestry, told reporters in a briefing. Having rain come in from the south instead of the southwest as is typical, will put the moisture on the west slopes of the Cascades — half an inch to an inch.
"If I could script that out, that's exactly where I would ask for it," Grafe said.
Two massive wildfires, Riverside in Clackamas County and Beachie Creek in Marion and Linn counties, continue with only minimal containment.
"But we do expect lightning," Grafe said. "As is typical with any storm front, we expect frontal winds that come with these storm fronts. The moisture doesn't come to the fires first. The winds will. That could be problematic."
As of earlier Thursday, the Riverside fire in southern Clackamas County had consumed 137,828 acres and was 6% contained. The Beachie Creek fire east of Salem was estimated at 191,238 acres and 20% contained. Containment is defined as the percentage of control lines around a fire but does not mean control of a fire.
However, the two fires remain separate and no longer threaten to merge into one big fire, as was feared earlier.
About 1 million acres have been consumed in the current round of wildfires.
State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said enough progress has been made on some fires so that firefighters can be released to return to their home districts. The state fire marshal does not have its own firefighting forces or equipment, but under a 1941 state law, the office can muster them from fire districts as needed to cope with specific threats.
During their peak, Oregon has had to cope with around three dozen fires and set up a dozen command centers.
"This has been an unprecedented year for fires, as we all know," she said.
The briefing started with Gov. Kate Brown describing her visit to the Beachie Creek fire, where the Santiam Unit of the Oregon Department of Forestry lost its fire station in Lyons and the original wildfire incident command center moved from the former school building in Gates. The fire destroyed both structures.
The state fire crews were able to move their three engines.
"Meeting those firefighters and learning of the heroic actions they have taken to save others during this crisis have only strengthened my resolve to make sure that Oregon has what it needs to rebuild," Brown said Thursday.
"They went out of their way to say the real heroes of the Beachie Creek fire in terms of protecting lives and saving structures were local community members, a majority of them volunteers who worked tirelessly to save their communities."
Brown's visit was not announced in advance, and no reporters or photographers accompanied her. Her office released a statement, photos and video at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16. She did not respond directly Thursday to a question about why she gave no notice, only that conditions forced her to cancel a similar visit to the Holiday Farm wildfire east of Eugene.
Firefighting efforts include almost 1,300 Oregon National Guard soldiers and airmen, among them five 125-member firefighting teams. Two teams were still in training at Camp Rilea near Warrenton; Maj. Gen. Mike Stencel, the adjutant general, said they would be ready for service next week. Others are involved in traffic control checkpoints.
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