Guarded optimism: evacuation orders lifted, but rain now delayed
The confirmed death toll from Oregon's wildfires stands at 10, according to Andrew Phelps, director of the Office of Emergency Management. He said 22 people are reported as missing in situations related to the fires.
CNN reports that the fires have killed at least 28 people in the three contiguous West Coast states since mid-August.
On the firefighting front, the weather giveth and the weather taketh away: Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, speaking to the media Monday, Sept. 14, said the current westerly winds have brought higher humidity to the state, which has helped stop the march of fires. But that good news is not unalloyed.
"We do have increased winds in central south Oregon," Grafe warned. "We'd been hoping for rain, but it looks like (forecasts) put that rain out into the Wednesday-Thursday range. … That rain may come with some lightning and thunder storms, particularly on the eastside of the state."
Gov. Kate Brown also announced Monday that she has asked the Ford Family Foundation, Meyer Memorial Trust and Oregon Community Foundation to create the 2020 Community Rebuilding Fund, for long-term, post-wildfire recovery. The foundations will be asked to invest in the state's medium- and long-term recovery, she said.
"I'm so heartened by these foundations and by all Oregonians coming together right now," Brown said. The work will help in "building a more resilient Oregon."
Meanwhile, on the ground, evacuation orders are being lifted Monday and many Oregonians are returning home.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, the city of Molalla was downgraded to a level 2 evacuation alert — Levels 1, 2 and 3, are, essentially, ready, set and go.
The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office announced at 7:05 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13 that it reduced the evacuation level from level 3 (red) to level 2 (yellow), effective immediately. The downgraded evacuation notice also applies to some areas north and southwest of the city, including Mulino.
Level 2 advises residents to "be set" and ready to leave if needed, and be on the lookout for hazards like downed power lines. CCSO advises residents with livestock not to bring those animals back to their homes yet.
The change in status means many residents who had to evacuate due to fires may now return home.
Additionally, urban areas like Wilsonville, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Clackamas, Happy Valley, Gladstone, Milwaukie and Tualatin have all been removed from Level 1.
The sheriff's office warns that air quality in the area remains hazardous and advises everyone to stay indoors.
The Powerline Fire burning near Henry Hagg Lake has been contained, and all of the remaining evacuation orders in place will be lifted, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and the Oregon Department of Forestry announced late Sunday afternoon, Sept. 13.
"Owing to the hard work and quick reactions of firefighters with Gaston Rural Fire District, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and many other cooperating agencies, the Powerline Fire is well secured," the fire agencies announced in what they said will likely be their final update on the wildfire.
The fire prompted close to 600 people to evacuate their homes south from Hagg Lake to the Cherry Grove community last Tuesday.
Evacuation orders began to be lifted Friday, and on Saturday, the fire agencies cleared the last remaining evacuees to return to their homes along Southwest Dundee, Hering and Lee roads and Cascara Drive.
Those areas have remained on Level 1 or Level 2 evacuation status — meaning residents should be ready to leave again if needed — but as of 7 p.m., those orders will be lifted altogether.
Although temperatures have dropped and the winds have died down after a Labor Day windstorm whipped up wildfires last week, conditions remain dry and fire risk is still elevated.
Statewide, officials count more than a million acres burned and tens of thousands of people forced to leave their homes.
Even as dry, hot weather that fueled the fires earlier in the week appears to be moderating across much of Oregon, wildfire smoke lingers on, bringing hazardous air and posting breathing risks for vulnerable people.
Officials said the Beachie Creek Fire east of Salem and the Riverside Fire east of the Portland metro area remain about one mile apart.
That fire stands at an estimated 450,000 acres, Grafe said on Monday. The slim slice of land between them — near the towns of Colton and Molalla — so far has remained unburned. "That's a really important piece of ground now," Grafe said.
Gov. Brown said that 250,000 N95 masks are being distributed by the Oregon National guard to agricultural workers and to Native American tribes that have been impacted by the fires.
She also announced the creation of the Governor's Economic Recovery Council, starting this week, to be co-chaired by state Treasurer Tobias Reed of Beaverton and Val Hoyle, commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Reporters Brittany Allen, Anna Del Savio, Max Egener, Cindy Fama, Dana Haynes, Emily Lindstrand, Patrick Malee, Mark Miller, Raymond Rendleman, Sam Stites, Courtney Vaughn, Kristen Wohlers and Peter Wong have contributed to this week's wildfire stories. Photographers Alvaro Fontan, Jonathan House and Jaime Valdez have shot images. KOIN 6 News and Oregon Public Broadcasting contributed to this article. Both are news partners of Pamplin Media Group.
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