Schrader: Wildfires in PNW need better funding

Rain helping firefighters contain active blazes

The Whitewater Fire in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, August 5, 2017 (USDA)
The Whitewater Fire in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, August 5, 2017 (USDA)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Firefighters continue to make progress on the Eagle Creek Fire, which is now 46% contained, but still burning over nearly 49,000 acres.

Rain helped the cause on Monday and more rain is expected through Thursday.

The evacuations for the Eagle Creek Fire were lifted Monday and on Tuesday, the Marion County Emergency Management officials reduced the evacuation levels for the Breitenbush Hot Springs and the Breitenbush summer homes to Level 1 — where it will stay “until the fire danger is no longer of concern.”

This season has been one of the worst seasons for wildfires in the Northwest — with approximately 1,044,738 acres affected, according to Northwest Coordination Center.

Other wildfires continue throughout the state of Oregon, and Tuesday Rep. Kurt Schrader visited 3 of them — the Whitewater, Rebel and Scorpion fires. Schrader has been pushing Congress for more funding and better wildfire policy.

“We’re always going to have forest fires. Lightning, man-made, whatever,” Schrader said. “How do we prevent that from blowing up and out of control? We’re paying tons and tons of taxpayer money and put other hot spots and firefighters at risk and the answer to that is good forest management like we used to have and I’d like to get back to that and that’s what I’m pushing for in Congress these days.”

Latest official details on Oregon wildfires

Schrader was briefed by U.S. Forest Service personnel before his tour with Willamette Forest Supervisor Tracy Beck and Willamette National Forest District Ranger Grady McMahan.

In Oregon and Washington this season, there have been more than 100 large fires. Oregon alone has spent at least $340 million battling wildfires.

Whitewater Fire

The Whitewater Fire in the Willamette National Forest in Marion County began July 23 from lightning and strong winds. As of Tuesday, it’s burned 14,416 acres and is 33% contained. Officials expect to contain this fire by the end of October.

The Rebel Fire

This fire in the Three Sisters Wilderness began August 4. To date, it’s grown to 8653 acres but is not expected to grow because of cooler, wet weather in the area.

The Chetco Bar Fire

A firefighter battles the Chetco Bar Fire near Brookings, August 24, 2017 (U.S. Forest Service- Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Facebook)
A firefighter battles the Chetco Bar Fire near Brookings, August 24, 2017 (U.S. Forest Service- Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Facebook)

The biggest of the state’s wildfires, the Chetco Bar Fire has now torched 190,237 acres. It began July 12 and is expected to be contained in mid-October. It’s currently 68% contained and officials said:

“In the past week firefighters have made good progress in containing and strengthening lines around the Chetco Bar Fire. Firefighters, including crews with Oregon Army National Guard Task Force 5, continue to monitor and patrol the fireline, adding waterbars and recovering equipment where where containment objectives have been achieved. The current weather pattern is more favorable for firefighters and the area forecast includes more than an inch of rain in addition to cooler temperatures and higher humidity over the next few days.”

What’s the next step

Schrader said he wants wildfires to be treated like hurricanes, which receive much more federal funding.

“There’s a lot of us out West, West of the Mississippi River that feel like we’re 2nd-class citizens for disasters. Particularly these wildfire disasters — are treated like the disasters we read about all the time back East, so that’s totally inappropriate,” Schrader said.

Schrader hopes to get a wildfire funding package that would be more permanent — potentially piggybacking on one of the hurricane relief bills coming through.