Fire Protection Update and Invitation to visit Stouts Creek Fire on August 19th
We’re at a critical juncture in this very busy fire season. Existing fires on the landscape such as the Stouts Creek Fire in Douglas County and forecasts pointing to wide-scale lighting events throughout this week present a variety of challenges. Historically in Oregon, August proves to be challenging, as we started the month dispatching two ODF incident management teams to large fires in Douglas County – the Stouts Creek Fire and the Cable Crossing Fire.
As I write this, the Incident Management Team, ODF Team 3, assigned to the Cable Crossing Fire has returned home after stopping the fire at just over 1800 acres. This was a challenging fire with significant growth potential, and outcomes could have been much worse. Aggressive action by the team, working very closely with private landowners who supplied heavy equipment and operators, along with cooperating agencies and contractors were critical to keeping this fire from burning thousands of additional acres.
My previous email was sent just as the Stouts Creek Fire was evolving. Currently, the Stouts Creek Fire is approximately 22,000 acres burning on private and public timberlands, predominately Roseburg Forest Products, the BLM and USFS. This fire again highlighted Oregon’s complete and coordinated fire protection system, as Governor Kate Brown invoked the Conflagration Act, allowing the Oregon State Fire Marshall to mobilize six task forces (about 30 structural firefighting engines) along with one of their Incident Management Teams. Private landowners and contractors again stepped up to provide essential resources, both in terms of fire crews and equipment, and other states as far away as Florida have provided assistance through sending key fire leadership positions to help manage large fires. Due to the complexity of the fire, risks to structures and the communities of Milo, Drew and Upper Cow Creek, and loss of natural resources, a Federal Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) was received to help with the suppression costs of this damaging wildfire.
National Guard helicopters mobilized to support fires in Southern Oregon
We requested the help of Governor Brown and the National Guard to support aviation needs for suppressing the Stouts Creek Fire, and their response was immediate by Governor Brown declaring a state of emergency which allowed additional response of three helicopters. This was critical as all large (Type 1) helicopters were assigned to other fires or supporting initial attack.
Yesterday, a new fire emerged in Northeast Oregon- the Cornet Fire 17 miles south of Baker City. The fire is now estimated to be around 1000 acres- an Incident Management Team is currently being dispatched to this emerging fire. More information will be available on this incident through the daily fire update.
The Pacific Northwest remains at preparedness level 4—almost at the top of the scale—indicating multiple major incidents, significant commitment of resources based in the region, and use of resources from beyond the region. The national preparedness level is currently 4.
The potential risk for large fires remains extreme across southwest, central and northeast Oregon, and the forecast continues to point to continued hot, dry weather with significant lightning. Eastern Oregon and the Central Cascades are currently receiving lightning as I write this.
In the face of these challenges, we continue to stop most fires while they’re small. We are making the maximum use of the helicopters, air tankers and other “severity” resources funded by the state and our landowner partners, available for positioning across the state where the need is greatest.
Although most fires have been stopped while small, the few that grow large continue to accumulate significant costs. Our most recent calculations indicate approximately $17 million in net accumulated large-fire costs (reflecting expected reimbursements, primarily from FEMA). The pre-identified $5 million dollars for severity resources (funded by the General Fund and the Oregon Forestland Protection Fund) has played a critical role. Due to the early start of fire season, we executed many of our 75-day contracts early, which may present funding challenges should fire season continue well into September.
Key contacts and an opportunity to experience the Stouts Creek Fire operation on August 19th
We are planning a tour of the Stouts Creek Fire on August 19th. This tour will provide excellent opportunities to see how the complete and coordinated fire protection system works, a chance to tour a fire camp, see the fire, learn more about large fire funding, and see how investments in critical severity resources provide the necessary base for protecting communities and forestland. If you have an interest in participating in this tour, please let myself or Deputy State Forester Nancy Hirsch (Nancy.Hirsch@oregon.gov“>Nancy.Hirsch@oregon.gov) know by COB on August 14th.