Sen. Jeff Merkley said he expects Pres. Donald Trump to approve Oregon’s request for emergency federal assistance for the wildfires e soon, perhaps as early as Thursday afternoon or Friday.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made the formal request for support Wednesday, and Oregon’s congressional delegation issued a letter of support the same afternoon.
On Thursday, as fires continued to ravage the state, Brown told reporters she was still waiting on a response to the request from the White House. About 900,000 acres of Oregon have burned, she said.
Over the past 10 years, Oregon sees an average of 500,000 acres burned over the span of one year, Brown said.
“We’ve seen that nearly double in the past three days,” Brown said. “We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state.”
Brown and state officials said they are working to get more firefighters on the ground. A strike team is coming in from Utah, Brown said, and she requested a battalion of active duty military members from the U.S. Department of Defense and has asked Oregon colleges and universities to be flexible with students who are fighting the wildfires.
Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection for the Oregon Department of Forestry, estimates that Oregon needs twice as many firefighters. As of Thursday afternoon, about 3,000 firefighters are fighting Oregon fires, he said.
“I think we need to come close to doubling the effort over the next couple weeks to get our arms around these fires,” Grafe said.
Brown said it could take days or weeks to “fully estimate damage” from the fires.
“We are asking everyone right now … our firefighters, our National Guard, our Army Corps (of Engineers) or the Red Cross to be focused on saving lives,” Brown said.
Brown said 30,000 to 40,000 Oregonians have evacuated so far. She urged people to “stay vigilant and listen to local officials.”
You can visit wildfire.oregon.gov for more information about evacuations and ways to get help in your area.
Merkley said he hopes Trump’s partisan rhetoric over the past few months about Oregon and other West Coast states wouldn’t come into play in the president’s decision to provide emergency help to Oregon.
“We’re going to keep being in their ear, on their phone line at their door until this gets signed.”
Merkley said the amount of aid Oregon receives won’t be determined until the president signs the disaster declaration to authorize help.
Merkley said he and Sen. Ron Wyden plan to tour the impacted areas of the Santiam Fire and the McKenzie Fire on Friday.
But if he can’t get to areas like Detroit or Gates because of active fire fighting, he will spend time at the command center to get an update.
“We’re in the middle of almost an apocalyptic moment with a massive increase in fires all across the state,” Merkley said. “This summer has been one in which the number of fires, the intensity of the fires has been higher than in past years.”