Oregon Lessons Learned From 2020 Helped Avoid Another Fire Disaster. Did It Really Help The State?

Since the fires on Labor Day in 2020, Oregon’s fire response has altered. Oregon’s emergency response has changed as a result of the high-risk weather this weekend.
More than 4,000 houses were destroyed and 1.1 million acres were burned during the 2020 wildfire season in Oregon. 9 persons passed away. The majority of the destruction took place over a terrible Labor Day weekend, which lasted 72 hours. Wind and dry weather contributed to fires spreading quickly, forcing many residents to leave without much warning.

Similar conditions occurred in Oregon over the past weekend, when winds once more tore over large portions of western Oregon, fueling existing fires and igniting new ones. Going into this past weekend, Oregonians had many reasons to be concerned.

According to Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon’s Department of Emergency Management, “We have dozens of fires still burning on the landscape, and tens of thousands of acres have been burnt across the state too far.

However, even though the flames grew and hundreds of Oregonians had to leave, the devastation was not as bad as it would have been on Labor Day 2020.

Phelps attributes some of the improvements in Oregon’s wildfire response to his remarks made on Think Out Loud on Monday on OPB.

Phelps stated, “I’m aware that throughout the summer, the Department of Forestry and the State Fire Marshal’s office have discussed the increased resources and ability they have to respond to this initial attack.

If Senate Bill 762 hadn’t been enacted by lawmakers, according to Phelps, the situation may have been different. More than $220 million will be made available by the new law to help Oregon modernize and improve its wildfire preparedness through the implementation of three key strategies: building fire-adapted communities, training fire personnel to respond safely and effectively, and boosting the resilience of Oregon’s landscapes.

The complete package includes a variety of wildfire protection strategies, such as funding programs to lower fuel loads and firefighting manpower, forcing electric providers to submit risk reduction plans, and enhancing the way the state warns Oregonians of impending fire threats.

Phelps stated, “We can all do things individually, as families, and as communities, to prepare for awful days. But a bigger structure must be in place to make the most of our available resources.

Officials rapidly learned from the public in 2020 that the state’s emergency warning system had failed to inform residents of evacuation orders promptly or, in some cases, at all.

We have a lot more streamlined mass notification system for the whole state called OrAlert, and almost every county in the state has endorsed it, according to Phelps.

This weekend, a number of utilities turned off the electricity in places where there were severe winds and dry weather. In order to stop other fires from being started by downed, live power lines, Pacific Power and Portland General Electric made their efforts. The risk reduction plans needed by the new Oregon statute included information about the “public safety power shutoffs.”

Oregon Lessons Learned From 2020
Oregon Lessons Learned From 2020

It’s been a really collaborative process where they’ve spoken to emergency managers, forecasters, and the public utility commission to ensure that everyone is on the same page on the time, dangers, and other hazards associated with cutting off electricity to significant portions of the town.

According to Phelps, as of Sunday, every utility that had launched such voluntary shutoffs had reported that the electricity had been turned back on.

Phelps is aware of the effects of these shut-offs and how crucial preparation is.

“There are things that we have put up at the state level, relying on federal partners as required,” he added. “There are a lot of state agencies and wonderful volunteer groups that offer resources to get into these communities.” When a multi-day power outage is anticipated, resources for those who are affected by shutoffs may include cooling centers, food, water, and bags of ice.

According to Phelps, the Cedar Creek Fire remains the state’s top worry. It is forcing evacuations in a neighborhood that was severely affected by the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020 since it is burning close to Oakridge.

Phelps is expecting that the weather will soon improve because it has made the fire conditions extremely hazardous over the past few days.

We are about to reach the point when we may perhaps start to notice some of the benefits of the fall rains on our state, according to Phelps.

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