City & Government, Community

Wyden, Hoyle go to D.C. with fire under them

As Oregon’s wildfire season shows no signs of letting up, Senator Ron Wyden and Congresswoman Val Hoyle will return to Washington D.C. with a mission in mind: helping their fellow legislators understand the true dangers and repercussions of wildfires in hopes of garnering political support.

By press time Tuesday, the Bedrock Fire, which started over a month ago on July 22, had burned 30,554 acres and was at 35% containment; the Lookout Fire, which began on Aug. 5, had burned 12,188 acres and was at 5% containment; and the Wiley Creek Fire, which started on Aug. 7, had burned 245 acres and was 70% contained.

The Bedrock Fire moved from 30% containment to 35% containment on Aug. 20, and it has remained there. But progress is progress. On Aug. 21, Lane County Sheriff Cliff Harrold reduced level 3 evacuations down to level 2. 

“For now, we’re happy to report that we can put the area that was level 3 to level 2, and we’ll continue to have staff out there,” Harrold said.

The Lookout Fire is also seeing some downward movement in evacuation levels. Although a measly 5% containment may not sound too comforting, on Aug. 20, the Lookout Fire was at 0% contained.

On Aug. 21, Harrold said, “North of the highway from Mill Creek road west to Road 15, the River Reservoir road, we’re about to drop that from a 3 down to a 2… Based on the work that the fire folk are doing here, we feel like we’re comfortable moving that back to a 2.”

The Wiley Creek Fire perimeter line has remained the same since Aug. 14, and firefighters seem to be getting a handle on it. All evacuations were lifted for the Wiley Creek Fire on Aug. 17 when it was just 40% contained, and now that containment has almost doubled.

Wyden, Hoyle, and Lane County commissioner Heather Buch led a press briefing on Aug. 21 regarding Oregon’s ongoing wildfires.

Wyden speaks at a recent press briefing.

Buch took some time off of work recently to go to Hawaii and was there during the Maui fires.

“It took me back to everything that occurred in the Holiday Farm Fire, and I know the residents also were thinking that when they heard the news,” Buch said. “I have the chance to brief new teams that come in every two weeks. I think about them. I think about their families. I think about their kids. They are all sacrificing for the folks in Lane County, so thank you firefighters and first responders.”

Wyden and Hoyle emphasized that these dangerous effects of climate change were bipartisan issues and looked forward to going back to D.C. to get to work, noting that Canada’s wildfires have allowed for a bittersweet opportunity for all Congresspeople to experience the harshness of fire season as the smoke made its way down the Eastern Seaboard.

“For the first time, we were able to explain to people,” Hoyle said. “You can tell someone there’s a fire. You can tell someone what smoke is like. But when they were dealing with the air quality that we deal with every summer, the Senator and I used it as an opportunity to let our colleagues know that this is what we deal with every year, and it made it real.”

Wyden was adamant about three facets of the intricate topic of wildfires, and Hoyle echoed his sentiment. The first is that firefighters’ pay should be increased.

“I’ve seen this summer how urgent it is to make the professional firefighters available year-round. It can’t just be for a few months in the hot weather,” Wyden said. “That means it’s going to cost some, but I’ll tell you, you can’t afford not to do it.”

The second is that preventative measures should be prioritized.

“We want to make sure that we can spend even more money upfront preventing these fires in the first place, making sure we have resources early instead of just writing a giant blank check afterwards, because that doesn’t make sense,” Hoyle said.

The third is that there is a dire need to remove bureaucratic red tape.

“In the package that the congresswoman and I present, we are going to have significant flexibility so that all these good people, when they’re in the middle of a fire risk or a fire emergency, don’t face any bureaucratic red tape to get the relatively inexpensive supplies they need to put the fires out,” Wyden said. “And this is something that I think I’ll be able to get passed in the United States Senate.”



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