Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber issued a rare statewide state of emergency Thursday evening to offer National Guard help to battle wildfires burning around the state and due to the threat of more blazes from predicted weekend thunderstorms.
"At 5:50 P.M. today, Governor Kitzhaber verbally declared a statewide State of Emergency due to the imminent threat of wildfire," the announcement said.
"In accordance with ORS 401.165, the governor determined that a threat to life, safety, and property exists with the State of Oregon in a critical fire danger situation."
Specifically, the governor’s declaration authorizes the immediate use of National Guard helicopters to aid in fighting the Barry Point Fire southwest of Lakeview, as well as additional crews and resources as needed.
Much of the state is now in extreme fire danger and red flag warnings are predicted to be issued for hot, dry, windy conditions and thunderstorms.
Other parts of the country continue to experience large-complex fires and similar fire weather, which will limit national firefighting resources," the governor's office said.
The imminent threat of wildfire exists over a broad area of the state including forests in the Cascades and eastern and southern Oregon.
In fact, six significant fires are actively burning over 130,000 acres in Oregon at this time. More than 1 million acres have burned over the course of six weeks in Oregon.
“Oregon and the nation are heading into a challenging stretch of fire season,” Kitzhaber said. “As national firefighting resources are constricted, my top priority is to ensure the state is able to effectively contain wildfires to keep the public and our firefighters safe.”
By declaring a state of emergency, the governor ordered the Oregon Military Department and the Oregon Department of Forestry to coordinate the use of personnel and equipment of the state for wildland firefighting in Oregon with National Guard resources.
This determination of a fire emergency is statewide and is limited to the use of state resources and personnel for wildland firefighting.
The governor's spokesman, Cameron Smith, says the declaration is "not a blank check" and the state will consider tapping Guard helicopters on a case by case basis. He says the Guard's strength is in providing medevac helicopters, should firefighters be cut off or injured.
Smith says the authorization will last through wildfire season, likely into September.
Among the major Oregon wildfires and their status Friday (visit http://www.inciweb.org/state/38/ for the latest):
Waterfalls 2: The forest fire 22 miles west of Warm Springs on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation was at 2,800 acres, with 434 personnel. Segments of the Pacific Crest, Gibson Lake, Horseshoe Lake and Ruddy Hill trails were ordered closed.
Barry Point: The fire 22 miles southwest of Lakeview was nearly 84,000 acres with 1,320 firefighters and support personnel. It was 30 percent contained.
Holloway: The massive fire has now burned more than 462,000 acres in southeast Oregon and northern Nevada, but the 727 firefighters on it have brought it to 86 percent containment, with full containment expected by next Tuesday. Area closures near the fire were lifted Friday.
Butte: The fire that began on the Umpqua National Forest and spread to the Deschutes has burned 145 acres, and has 175 personnel fighting it, also prompting several road and trail closures. It's only 5 percent contained
Buckhead Complex: The eighth fire in the group on the Willamette National Forest was detected this week, east of the rest, near Bobby Lake, and prompted a closure of the area around the lake They have burned about 270 acres and had 250 firefighters on it, at 60 percent overall containment Friday.
Fort Complex: Several fires began after the Aug. 5 storms that hit the Klamath and Rogue River national forests. They have burned almost 4,140 acres but the 664 firefighters have them 35 percent contained; full containment estimate is Aug. 30.
Ten Mile Complex: Two fires that burned 14,000 acres just north of the Oregon-Nevada border east of U.S. Highway 95 have been contained, and mop-up is under way.