'Red Flag' Conditions Drive Oregon Wildfires

Dozens of fires are burning across 58,000 acres

'Red Flag' Conditions Drive Oregon Wildfires
A sign warning of impending fire danger is posted in Estacada, Ore., on Sept. 10, 2020. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
Scottie Barnes

Emergency evacuation alerts went out to thousands of Oregonians overnight on Aug. 13 as wildfires exploded around the state.

On Monday morning, more than 2,100 personnel were working to contain 22 active fires burning on nearly 58,000 acres. Six of the blazes were characterized as large fires, according to Carol Connor of the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Seven new fires started in the Willamette National Forest within the past week, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Five were started by lightning. Thirty have already been put out in the forest this year.

Thousands were forced to leave their homes when local sheriffs offices issued a level 3 evacuation order, urging residents to leave immediately and not stop to gather belongings as fire danger is extreme. Emergency responders may not be able to help those who stay.

Fire conditions in western Oregon remain “extreme,” with low humidity and high winds. A triple digit heatwave is expected to continue in western Oregon through to at least Wednesday.

“The next few days are going to be challenging with extreme heat, lightning, and red flag conditions in the forecast,” Oregon State Fire Marshal (OSFM) Mariana Ruiz-Temple said in a public statement.

A Red Flag warning means “critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly. Conditions are favorable for rapid fire spread which may threaten life or property.”

Governor Declares Emergency

On Sunday, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek (D) signed the Emergency Conflagration Act, allowing the OSFM to send additional resources to the Lookout Fire, which is burning in the Cascade foothills of Lane County.

Ignited by a lightning strike on Aug. 5, the fire had engulfed 1,200 acres as of Monday night and was zero percent contained.

“The Lookout Fire has been growing rapidly due to the dry, windy conditions in Lane County,” Ms. Ruiz-Temple said in a prepared statement.

“The next few days are very concerning.”

Two fire task forces have been deployed, which could be extended for up to two weeks, according to an OSFM news release.

The OSFM is also mobilizing multiple task forces to respond to the nearby Bedrock Fire.

“We are taking a proactive step by pre-positioning task forces to be ready for any fire that may spark,” Ms. Ruiz-Temple said.

The 22,700-acre fire was reported at 20 percent containment Monday. It has been burning for more than four weeks.

“We are very concerned with the weather forecast over the coming week, and are being strategic with our resources,” Ms. Ruiz-Temple said. “The Bedrock Fire continues to move out of the wilderness and is threatening nearby communities.”

Level 3 evacuation orders were issued for the Bedrock Fire late on Monday.

Another large fire is blazing in southwest Oregon.

The Flat Fire has been burning since July 15. It has consumed 33,867 acres and is now 56 percent contained.

The OSFM office is coordinating with California fire agencies to bring in additional strike teams. In addition, seven Hotshot crews made up of 20 elite first-attack wildland firefighters are arriving from other states.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued an air quality advisory in multiple counties through Tuesday evening due to wildfire smoke.

Air pollution levels in those areas measured “moderate” to “unhealthy.”

Scottie Barnes writes breaking news and investigative pieces for The Epoch Times from the Pacific Northwest. She has a background in researching the implications of public policy and emerging technologies on areas ranging from homeland security and national defense to forestry and urban planning.