'Every firefighter on deck' this wildfire season in Oregon
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As infernos continue to rage across Oregon, officials say that the state will need “every firefighter on deck" this wildfire season.”
Currently, 5,000 firefighters are battling blazes in the state, including 2,000 working on the Bootleg Fire — the nation's largest active wildfire that has grown to 607-square-mile (1,572 square kilometers).
“It is going to take every layer of our response system to keep Oregonians safe this season,” State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said during a news conference Tuesday.
Along with the exceedingly hot and dry conditions, Ruiz-Temple said that this wildfire season is historic in terms of the amount of resources that have been deployed.
Fire officials say that while there are still some local crews and National Guard members available to help, teams from Utah and California have also been brought to Oregon.
“What we know in Oregon, in terms of structural protection and wildland, the amount of firefighters we have are not commensurate with the types and size of our fires,” Ruiz-Temple said. “We do rely on that complete coordinated system, not only within Oregon but around the nation.”
In addition, in the event that national resource availability diminishes as the fire season progresses, there are also international crews that could be sent to help – including from Australia and Canada.
“It’s shaping up to be another difficult wildfire season and unfortunately we are responding to new fires as we are still recovering from last year’s devastating fire season,” Gov. Kate Brown said. “The good news is, there is still a lot of excellent work happening on the ground to protect Oregonians, our homes and our land.”
The Bootleg Fire, which is burning 300 miles (483 kilometers) southeast of Portland in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest, has ravaged a vast expanse of old-growth forest, lakes and wildlife refuges.
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened. Seventy homes and more than 100 outbuildings have gone up in flames. Thick smoke chokes the area where residents and wildlife alike have already been dealing with months of drought and extreme heat. No one has died.
As of Tuesday morning, the fire is 30% contained.
The Bootleg Fire is one of many fires burning in a dozen states, most of them in the U.S. West. Sixteen large uncontained fires burned in Oregon and Washington state alone on Monday.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
“After last year, what is very clear is that no corner of our state is immune to fire. On the West Coast and here in Oregon, the urgent and dangerous climate crisis has exacerbated the conditions on the ground,” Brown said.
Sara Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.