Oregon Fires Causing Death, Displacement, and Hazardous Air

Wildfires in Oregon have left dozens missing and tens of thousands of people displaced. At least 10 people have been reported dead 

Willamette Week recently spoke to Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, and Phelps said state officials are expecting a mass fatality event due to the fires. With entire towns like Talent, Phoenix and Detroit being devastated, Phelps estimates that “the long-term recovery is going to last years.”  

Roughly half a million Oregonians, or 10 percent of the population, are currently in either level 1, 2, or 3 evacuation zones; more than 40,000 people have been in level 3 and evacuated. Those in level 1 evacuation zones are told to “be on high alert” and those in level 2 are told “be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.” 

Benton County currently has no evacuation orders. 

The Portland National Weather Service office estimates the fire has burned about 10 percent of the western forests on the northwest part of the Cascade mountain range. 

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked that people remain in their towns unless they were in an evacuation zone, saying “We need to make sure that the roads are open for those who are in urgent fire zones.”  

Brown also urged those away from their home to stay away until it’s safe to return. She assured that the National Guard and the Oregon State Police are monitoring evacuated areas and are working to avoid any potential looting.  

Brown added that firefighting teams feel the weather has been encouraging – the fires are breaking down. However, she implores people to stay safe inside as the smoke is causing poor air quality throughout the state.  

The weather forecast is potentially uplifting though. Brown said, “We anticipate cooler air and moisture coming in the next few days which is really good news.” 

National Weather Service meteorologist Rebecca Muessle told KLCC that the smoke isn’t expected to leave until stronger winds on Sunday, but cautions not to expect clear skies on even Monday or Tuesday.  

Humans aren’t the only ones affected by the wildfires and smoke. Forest wildlife is also coping with the fire fallout.  

Michelle Dennehy, the Communications Coordinator at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that wildlife isn’t expected to increase in urban settings. She asked that people don’t leave food or water out for animals because it’s potentially more harmful than helpful.  

Dennehy said if a wounded animal is spotted, contact ODFW or the state police.  

By Hannah Ramsey