A deadly blaze has swept through the town of Brookings, Oregon, scorching 159 square miles in and around the area. Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was called in to fight the fire, which has now become the top firefighting priority in the country, and is said to be the worst fire seen in Oregon since the infamous Tillamook Burns of the 1940s.
OPB Radio reports that over 4,000 people in the town of 6,500 have been displaced from their homes under a Level-1 evacuation notice, and all evacuees have been moved to a Red Cross-sponsored shelter located at a Gold Beach elementary school outside the town. Since the fire started, six family homes have already burned to the ground, 30 are damaged, and over 700 more are threatened by the flames.
According to coverage from the Oregonian, Governor Kate Brown— who referred to the fire as a “conflagration”— announced on August 24 that the Oregon National Guard would be brought in to join the 1,400 people already fighting the fire, those which include a joint effort from the Oregon State Fire Marshall, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Coos Bay Fire Protection Association.
Despite the state and federal government’s best efforts, officials in Brookings have stated that the disaster, nicknamed the Chetco Bar Fire, is currently not contained.
Brookings citizens were alerted about the Level-1 evacuation at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, August 25, by the city’s sheriff and the State Fire Marshall. A Level-1 notice requires residents to immediately pack up and leave their homes. Curry County officials had townsfolk move to the school shelter, where the Red Cross provided those forced to evacuate with cots and blankets for sleeping, along with hot showers, drinking water, warm meals, and coffee.
The most common theory among all news and research outlets is that lightning struck the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on July 12, turned the undergrowth to kindling, and ignited the raging blaze about 5 miles northeast of Brookings. In a matter of weeks, the fire exploded and reached a momentous size, covering 102,333 acres of land.
The Oregon State Police have requested those traveling down coastal Highway 101 to find alternative routes, as the smoke in the region has resulted in extremely low visibility and driving through the area could be dangerous.
Officials don’t expect the blaze will be put out until October.
By Kiki Genoa