PHOENIX, Ore. – Today Senators Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley and Representative Greg Walden toured the destruction caused by the Almeda Fire and the evacuation location at the Jackson County Expo.
The congressmen took time to meet with local officials that are responding to the fire and the following investigations as well as the organizers at the Expo to get an idea of what kind of support Southern Oregon needs.
“I’ve visited a number of fires before and a number of flood zones, and I thought I’d seen the worst cases I could see; it’s absolutely nothing like what we’ve witnessed here in Oregon,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, after touring the Almeda Fire burn area.
“What we just saw were Oregon communities that have lost everything,” said Senator Ron Wyden.
Today lawmakers told NewsWatch 12 that aid from FEMA is on its way.
“They are going to be bringing trucks of essential supplies on Monday,” said Sen. Wyden.
Those trucks will provide additional help for search and rescue efforts and food aid.
The mobilization of further resources starts at the state level.
“It is up to the Governor to ask for this next declaration; we anticipate that happening Tuesday. That actually requires presidential authority and approval; we anticipate that to happen,” said Representative Greg Walden.
Both Senators and Representative Walden stressed the gaps in housing and state presence in Southern Oregon.
“We’ve got people who are sleeping in parking lots, and that is just unacceptable in Oregon, so the three of us are going to stay at it until people get those housing vouchers,” said Sen. Wyden.
We also heard the need from the state to maybe have a bigger presence down here and have a command site and a point of contact and we’ll be working on that as well, with the Governor’s office,” said Rep. Walden.
The congressmen say they’ve been in contact with the Governor’s office and highlighted the reason an additional declaration might take a few days.
“We may take a day or so to pull all that information together because it really does need to be documented. Given the amount of assistance that we’re going to need, we want to make sure we get it right and get it right the first time so they don’t say, ‘Oh, it’s not clear enough,’ and send it back,” said Sen. Wyden.
The congressmen were quick to confirm that funding is there for adequate fire response, pointing to the new fire policy enacted at the federal level and in effect for the first time this year.
“A lack of money isn’t going to be the problem from the federal government,” said Rep. Walden, “At the end of the day, whatever FEMA sends comes to the state and then the state distributes it.”