SALEM, Ore. — Help is on the way for a Southern Oregon already overwhelmed by an early fire season. After Governor Brown declared a statewide wildfire emergency on July 18, both the Oregon National Guard and FEMA became available for beleaguered fire and forestry crews striving to contain multiple wildfires across the state.
"The wildfire season has escalated in Oregon much earlier normal, and crews are working around the clock to keep homes and resources safe," said Governor Brown. "Given drought conditions and hotter than usual temperatures, Oregonians should be prepared for an intense wildfire season this year."
Governor Brown's invocation of the Emergency Conflagration Act came primarily in response to the 29,000-acre Substation Fire near The Dalles in northern Oregon, and not the profusion of smaller fires littering Southern Oregon right now. But Operation Plan Smokey, an agreement between the National Guard and Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), will benefit Southern Oregon just the same.
Under Plan Smokey, Guard CH-47 Chinook and HH-60M Black Hawk helicopters are made available to ODF to aid fire crews with retardant drops and medical evacuations. A UH-72 Lakota helicopter may also be used for aerial spotting.
According to the Oregon Military Department (OMD), two teams—each with about 125 servicemen and women—are trained and "Red Card" certified for wildfire season, with an additional 125-person team on track for certification by August 10.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds for firefighting efforts on the Garner Complex—which includes the Pleasant Creek and Graves Creek #3 fires, as well as the Taylor Creek Fire which is now considered part of the Wagner Complex by ODF.
FEMA said in a statement that Region 10 Administrator Mike O'Hare determined that the fire "threatened such destruction as would constitute a major disaster." He approved the state of Oregon’s request for a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) at 11:43 p.m. on Wednesday, July 18.
At the time of the request, FEMA said, those Rogue Valley fires were burning in steep and difficult terrain—threatening 400 homes in the Pickett Creek, Pleasant Creek, Wimer, and other areas around Merlin. The complex was also threatening major transmission lines supplying power to Oregon and California, communication towers and recreational areas, according to FEMA.
A FMAG comes from the President's Disaster Relief Fund and becomes available through FEMA to assist localities in fighting fires that threaten a major disaster. Eligible items can include expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; mobilization and demobilization activities; and tools, materials and supplies.