County Calls for Broad Investigation into Cause of Megafires

The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday called for a broad investigation into the causes of the large wildfires that have ravaged much of the state in recent weeks.

“We are committed to working with our state and federal partners to address the root cause of these wildfires in order to protect our community and to honor our natural resources,” commissioners said in a joint statement. “It is incumbent upon all levels of government to examine the causes of these megafires and implement long-term solutions that will reduce the threat of wildfires.”

The Riverside Fire, the largest conflagration in Clackamas County, was determined to be “human-caused,” which does not necessarily mean deliberate arson.

“Fire has just two causes: natural and human,” fire officials said in an earlier update on Riverside. “Natural sources include both lightning and volcanoes. Since there was no recorded lightning or volcanic eruptions when the fire was first reported in the early morning hours of Sept. 8, 2020, the fire was determined to be human-caused.”

Human causes cover a broad range of activities, including cigarettes, campfires, charcoal stoves, cars parked in tall grass, and so on.

In Clackamas County, we have seen the gamut. A three-alarm wildfire that broke out near Oregon City on Labor Day started when high winds brought down a power line.

Two homes were destroyed by a fire on South Spangler Road near Canby a couple of days later when an RV towing a flaming Jeep pulled to the side of the road. (Yes, that happened.) The Jeep was believed to have been ignited by sparks from dragging chains.

Despite persistent rumors on social media — some of which were repeated by law enforcement — no proof has been found confirming any of the fires in Clackamas County were the result of antifa or other politically motivated arsonists.

“Our top priority is protecting your safety and livelihood. We are supporting the firefighting efforts and making a path for your road to recovery,” commissioners said in the statement. “We want to work with you to strengthen our community and learn how we can better support you for the next time disaster strikes.”

The Clackamas fires — including Riverside as well as the smaller and mostly contained Wilhoit, Unger, Dowty Road and Graves Creek fires — destroyed an estimated 50 homes and 150 other structures.

They also decimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in valuable timberland — including 450 acres of forest owned by Clackamas County, the value of which officials estimated this week at more than $500,000.

“These massive infernos engulfed our forests, devastated our communities, exposed us to hazardous smoke, evacuated thousands and destroyed homes,” commissioners said.

There was, however, no loss of life to the historic wildfires in Clackamas County, which commissioners credited to the work of first responders, volunteers and ordinary citizens.

“We realize that the safety and care of yourself, family and neighbors during this time was a community effort,” commissioners said. “Thank you. Thank you for being quick to act, to follow evacuation orders and for taking care of one another.

“Your actions demonstrate that we are all Clackamas Strong. We are proud to serve you.”

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