PHOENIX, Ore. — The administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Pete Gaynor, toured the communities affected by the Almeda Fire on Saturday along with Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Representative Greg Walden.
The congressmen hoped that if Gaynor saw the devastation firsthand, it would drive home the urgency needed to begin the clean-up process and get more funding from FEMA.
"Now [Gaynor] can say to his team, 'I've seen it, it's real. Do everything you can as fast as you can to help out the communities,'" Sen. Merkley said about Gaynor's visit.
One of the top priorities for the congressmen was removing debris so not only could the rebuilding process begin, but also removing potentially hazardous waste could prevent additional environmental damage. Sen. Wyden says speeding up that process is at the top of his list.
"I'm making it a special priority to cut through the red tape and get these communities the help they need for debris removal," Sen. Wyden said.
According to officials, the burnt homes could contain toxic materials which with rain could seep into the waterways in southern Oregon. There's a possibility for Fire Season-ending rain a week from Saturday, meaning time is of the essence.
"[Household hazardous waste debris is] the stuff that's really going to cause the most environmental impact and still poses a threat to health and safety in those communities," Andrew Phelps, the director of Oregon Emergency Management, said.
"I realize these things take time," Sen. Merkley said. "But time is kind of our enemy here so we just want to work with FEMA to keep accelerating the process."
"It's gonna be a long haul," Rep. Greg Walden said. "There's a lot of material that needs to be evaluated and removed and that's going to take time to do. And so we've just got to make sure as a community and a country we're doing everything we can to help these people."
"It is never fast enough. Recovery is never fast enough," Pete Gaynor said. "It's never fast enough for the survivors, it's not fast enough for me, and it's not fast enough for our state and local partners."