Local fire officials are hopeful that the tide has finally turned in the battle against wildfires raging across three counties in the Willamette Valley that have darkened the skies, destroyed hundreds of homes and burned across an estimated 900,000 acres, displaced 40,000 people and killed at least three.
The Canby Fire District division chief told the Current Friday morning that — barring any unforeseen and drastic changes — he did not believe Canby would be put on level 3 mandatory evacuation. Aurora Fire Chief Joshua Williams posted an update on Facebook that afternoon saying much the same thing.
“Speaking about the Aurora Fire District only, I am confident that the worst is over,” he said. “With that being said, do not put your guard down, keep informed and be ready for any changes.”
The new optimism and improved prognosis is fueled by several factors, including much more favorable weather conditions and the introduction of federal resources, in the form of a type 1 incident management team to help take the pressure off local agencies.
On the weather front, there has been a literal change in the winds, with a lessening of easterly winds and increased pressure from the coast, according to Canby Mayor Brian Hodson, who was briefed by the incident management team Thursday morning.
“This is good weather news,” he said, which came along with more good news of increasing humidity levels (from 10-15% Thursday to 30-40% Friday morning and a predicted 70-80% that night).
“Because the winds are low, the finer fuels (grasses, etc) become less of a threat,” Hodson explained. “The heavier fuels (timbers, etc) still burn, but at slower rates.”
The federal involvement means much more resources, Hodson said, as well as relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. To that end, he signed an emergency declaration for the city of Canby Friday afternoon that will enable the city to access FEMA resources and financial support (pending approval of the City Council).
“The same personnel that have been fighting the fires now run under this new command structure,” Hodson said. “They are reaching out to statewide fire districts and other state fire districts to get more folks and equipment here. There are crews coming from Utah and Texas that will be here as early as tonight.”
Like Chief Williams, the mayor, too, urged that this new optimism be tempered with caution.
“This is a fire,” he said. “It is unpredictable. Conditions can and often do change. State alert and stay vigilant. As always, stay safe. Stuff can be replaced, you cannot.”
Air quality, however, remains a major health and safety concern, and likely will be for some time.
Health experts advise that you stay indoors as much as possible and limit activity outdoors.BIf you have heart or lung disease or respiratory illnesses such as asthma, follow your health care provider’s advice about prevention and treatment of symptoms.
Also, reduce other sources of smoke, such as cigarette smoking and wood-burning stoves, for example. And check current air quality conditions at oregonsmoke.blogspot.com to find the current air quality and wildfire smoke resources.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water.
Cloth masks and face coverings, while helpful in reducing the spread of Covid-19, do not protect you from wildfire smoke.
N95 respirators may offer some protection if properly fit-tested and worn. Otherwise, they may create a false sense of security.
N95s are not available in children’s sizes.
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