Oregon Delegation Pushes for Major Disaster Declaration As Wildfires’ Toll Grows

Oregon Delegation Pushes for Major Disaster Declaration As Wildfires’ Toll Grows

Lawmakers sent bipartisan, bicameral letter urging expedited approval of governor’s major disaster relief request

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s entire bipartisan Congressional delegation, including Representative Peter DeFazio, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Greg Walden, Kurt Schrader, and Suzanne Bonamici, today requested rapid approval of Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s request for major disaster relief amid unprecedented wildfire damage across the state.

“This year, more than 1 million acres of land in Oregon have been burned, and at least ten Oregonians have tragically lost their lives to the fires, with the death toll expected to increase. For comparison, an average total area of approximately 500,000 acres have burned each year of the last decade during a typical fire season,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Trump.

Oregon’s congressional delegation united last week to push for White House approval of the state’s request for federal disaster funding. The request was approved roughly a day later, providing critical FEMA assistance to support Oregon communities and first responders.

Since the Governor’s original request was made, the death toll has climbed, entire communities have been destroyed, hazardous smoke has blanketed much of the state, and firefighters have continued to struggle to contain blazes. 

“Governor Brown has determined that the severity of the wildfires is beyond the capabilities of the State. The number and scale of fires burning across Oregon’s landscape at the moment are catastrophic and unprecedented, and urgent action is necessary,” the letter continued. “We thank you in advance for your expedited review and approval of the Governor’s request for a Major Disaster declaration.”

The lawmakers’ letter is available here and follows below.

 

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Dear Mr. President:

We strongly support Governor Brown’s request on September 14, 2020 for an expedited Major Disaster declaration for the State of Oregon in response to the devastating wildfires burning across the state, which are also significantly impacting the lands and resources of several federally recognized tribes. Given the catastrophic nature of these wildfires, the limited accessibility to assess damages, and the ongoing emergency response, we urge you to expedite the declaration pursuant to Section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and make Federal assistance available to support the State, including Public Assistance for Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Coos, Deschutes, Douglas, Hood River, Jackson, Jefferson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Umatilla, Wasco, Washington, and Yamhill counties and Individual Assistance for Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion counties. As more information becomes available, more counties may require access to either Public Assistance or Individual Assistance.

Oregon is facing its worst drought in nearly 30 years, which has resulted in some of the driest forest conditions on record. On the afternoon of September 7, 2020, a windstorm, with winds up to 50 mph and gusts of 60 mph, moved into the region from the east. These winds, mixed with dry fuel loads, exploded existing fires and caught many communities by surprise. Tens of thousands of Oregonians were forced to flee from their communities in the early morning hours of September 8, and it is unclear when they will be able to return home.

In addition, strong winds have downed power lines, starting new fires that have quickly spread, and have already destroyed more than 1,000 structures, including homes and businesses. This year, more than 1 million acres of land in Oregon have been burned, and at least ten Oregonians have tragically lost their lives to the fires, with the death toll expected to increase. For comparison, an average total area of approximately 500,000 acres have burned each year of the last decade during a typical fire season. Over the past several days, the state has been focusing its resources on saving lives and protecting property. Fortunately, recent changes in weather patterns have allowed the state to finally start containing some fires while maintaining its focus on defending life and property.

Governor Brown has determined that the severity of the wildfires is beyond the capabilities of the State. The number and scale of fires burning across Oregon’s landscape at the moment are catastrophic and unprecedented, and urgent action is necessary. We thank you in advance for your expedited review and approval of the Governor’s request for a Major Disaster declaration.