MOLALLA, OREGON – Facing a historic year of wildfire destruction across the West Coast, the national emergency systems that rely on state-to-state assistance have been buckling under the strain.
That has left emergency responders struggling to keep pace with fires that have destroyed entire towns and led to at least eight deaths.
“I don’t know that we have any fires where we can say we have got enough resources to do what we need to do,” Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said.
On Thursday (Sept 10), fires continued to rage in southern Oregon, where hundreds of homes have been razed, as well as east of Salem, where two bodies have been found, and along the state’s coast.
Tens of thousands of people have had to evacuate, with orders expanding Thursday to parts of the Portland suburbs.
In California, firefighters continued to battle the August Complex burning in the Mendocino National Forest that is now the largest fire in the state’s recorded history.
In Washington, hundreds of homes and other structures were at risk.
Hilary Franz, the state’s commissioner of public lands, said the state was searching for help from elsewhere in the country.
“California, Oregon, Washington, we are all in the same soup of cataclysmic fire,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee.
The dead so far include three people who died in a fast-moving fire in California’s Butte County, north of Sacramento; a 1-year-old boy who was killed in the Cold Springs Fire in northern Washington; two people who were discovered in a vehicle east of Salem, Oregon; and two people who died in the Almeda Fire in southern Oregon.
Three law enforcement agencies in Oregon, including the Ashland Police Department and the State Police, said they had opened an arson investigation for the Almeda Fire, which destroyed roughly 600 homes and was still raging out of control Thursday.
Governor Kate Brown of Oregon said her office put in a request to the Defence Department for a battalion of active-duty military trained in firefighting.
Phelps said the state would also be seeking help from other states for search-and-rescue crews.
So many state aid requests have gone to the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group, which helps direct wildfire resources, that the group has been left to decide which ones get priority.
As of Thursday morning there were over 300 requests for support that could not be fulfilled.