Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber praised firefighters on Wednesday for their efforts to knock down the Oregon Gulch fire but said the intensity and frequency of major blazes is a threat to the wilderness areas of the state.
“I think this is clearly a symptom of climate change,” Kitzhaber said at the fire camp at Howard Prairie Resort. “This is just an explosive situation.”
Kitzhaber flew over the almost 37,000 acres consumed by the Oregon Gulch fire, the worst fire this year in Southern Oregon that erupted during the hottest July on record in Medford.
“They’re getting their arms around this,” he said.
Kitzhaber said fire managers throughout the state have told him this is the worst fire season to date, and he said he believes that climate change is a factor.
In The Dalles, Kitzhaber on Wednesday invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to help with the Rowena fire, which threatens 70 homes in the Columbia River Gorge. The fire started Tuesday evening six miles west of The Dalles and is about 200 acres.
Kitzhaber earlier declared the Emergency Conflagration Act for the Beaver Complex fires, of which the Oregon Gulch fire is the largest.
The governor’s declaration authorizes the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal to mobilize firefighters and equipment to assist local fire districts that are concentrating their efforts on protecting structures.
While lightning caused the spate of fires that erupted in Southern Oregon, Kitzhaber said residents need to be mindful not to use power tools in wilderness areas.
At the fire camp located at Howard Prairie Resort, fire officials announced they had made great strides in attacking the fire.
Link Smith, incident commander for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said he expects full containment around the fire by next week.
“We do have a line around it, but we don’t have full containment,” he said.
Smith said firefighters will be strengthening the line in the coming days. Much of the western and southern portions of the fire have been contained but the eastern edge is still considered the most dangerous.
The fire started July 30, and 1,720 personnel are helping extinguish it, aided by the cooler weather. Some residents in the area are still being warned to prepare for evacuation if the fire erupts again.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters, whose deputies were safeguarding homes from intruders in the fire-damaged areas, said his men also helped the Greensprings Rural Fire District and others move about 200 to 300 head of livestock away from the advancing flames.
“We used trailers, in some cases, and we also herded some of them, pushing them north of the highway,” he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.