In Short

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asks president to declare federal wildfire emergency for the state

By: - September 14, 2022 3:41 pm

The Cedar Creek Fire in Central Oregon, shown near Waldo Lake on Sept. 2, 2022, was one of seven large fires burning in Oregon. (U.S. Forest Service/Flickr)

Gov. Kate Brown has asked President Joe Biden to declare a federal emergency in Oregon due to extreme wildfire risks. It would make Oregon the first state to receive a presidential emergency declaration for wildfires.

Brown sent a letter requesting the federal aid to Biden on Sept. 9, as state officials warned of increased fire danger because of drought and high winds reaching up to 50 miles per hour in parts of the Illinois Valley, near the southwest coast, the lower Klamath Valley and the Cascade and Coast Ranges. 

The state currently has 32 active wildfires that have burned more than 160,000 acres and caused nearly 2,500 people to evacuate.

“We still have several weeks of peak fire season ahead of us,” Brown wrote. The fire season is slated to go through October.

In her letter, Brown said she expected that the magnitude and severity of wildfires would be too much for state and local governments to handle on their own.

Fires burning in other Western states have spread critical staff and resources thin, Brown said, and Oregon needs direct federal assistance with emergency power generation, emergency communications, evacuation support, mass care and debris removal.

Declaring a federal emergency “is critical to helping bolster our state’s response, and it presents an opportunity for Oregon to partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to bridge the gaps we know exist,” she wrote. 

Much of Oregon has been under extreme drought conditions since March, and according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the West is in the worst drought in 1,200 years and the driest 22-year period on record. 

Brown has issued six executive orders this summer increasing state aid for drought conditions in 17 counties. 

She also has issued state emergency orders for four fires this summer in central and eastern Oregon, and has directed the Oregon Department of Emergency Management to execute an emergency operations plan and activate the State Emergency Coordination Center – essentially a command center coordinating interagency emergency responses to wildfires.  

During the 2020 Labor Day fires that burned more than one million acres in a 72-hour period, Oregon got help from FEMA to provide public assistance for people in 20 counties. 

“Oregon would be the first state ever to receive such a declaration for wildfire response, but unfortunately, certainly not the last to need this important assistance,” Brown said in a public statement about her letter.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.