Firefighters Brace for Intensifying Oregon Wildfires

This year’s 909,358 acres of wildfire-burnt area across the Northwest has already surpassed the last ten years’ average, and with dry conditions persisting, firefighters continue their busy season. Of the 2,923 wildfires in the Northwest this year, 20 still require active containment efforts — and all of them are in Oregon. 

Unlike Washington, Oregon has not received any substantial rainfall this month; in fact, the state has received no more than 0.1 inches in the past 70 days. 

“In the absence of any sort of large-scale wetting rain event, we do expect the fires in the southern Cascades to persist on the landscape for some time,” said Ian Rickert, Fire Management Planning Specialist at the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

East winds, more common in the fall, are likely to intensify the fires, according to Rickert, who expects an east winds event — albeit weaker than last year’s infamous gusts — through the coming weekend in the southern Cascades.

As planned, the crews will prioritize containment of wildfires near human structures.

Darron Williams, Fire Management Officer at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said that Oregon fire authorities had joined California in mid-July by declaring Preparedness Level 5, as the National Interagency Fire Center foresees upcoming fire weather events “which have the potential to exhaust national wildland firefighting resources.”

As of now, Oregon firefighters have been “going for a long time,” noted Alex Robertson, Director of Fire, Fuels and Aviation at the U.S. Forest Service. And despite attempts to provide the crews with rest and recuperation time, firefighters are experiencing mounting fatigue. 

On August 17, the Department of Interior and U.S. Forest Service announced in a press release that the lowest paid federal wildland firefighters would immediately receive a pay raise and benefits that were promised by the Biden administration on June 30, in addition to a one-time monetary award. These pay increases and awards were allegedly set to appear in firefighters’ paychecks on August 23 or 24.

By Joanna Rosińska