Rogue Valley News, Monday, Sept 28 – Over 1 Million Acres of Forestland Has Burned in Oregon This Year; Covid-19 Cases Reaching Nearly 33,000 in Oregon

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the online digital home of the valley, RogueValleyMagazine.com, from Wynne Broadcasting.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Rogue Valley Weather

Today Sunny and hot, with a high near 98. East southeast wind 16 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. Overnight, clear, with a low around 59. Southeast wind 5 to 8 mph becoming calm in the evening.

Tuesday Patchy smoke after 11am. Sunny and hot, with a high near 99. Light north northwest wind.

Wednesday Sunny and hot, with a high near 98. Calm wind.

Thursday Sunny and hot, with a high near 97.

Friday Sunny, with a high near 92.

Today’s Headlines

COVID-19 has claimed one more life in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 547, the Oregon Health Authority reported today.   Oregon Health Authority reported 242 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of today, bringing the state total to 32,820.

Jackson County reported nine new cases. Four new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Josephine County, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 201.

The new cases reported today are in the following counties: Benton (1), Clackamas (10), Clatsop (8), Columbia (6), Coos (1), Deschutes (15), Douglas (5), Grant (1), Jackson (9), Jefferson (5), Lake (1), Lane (24), Lincoln (1), Linn (3), Malheur (10), Marion (26), Morrow (1), Multnomah (72), Polk (1), Tillamook (1), Umatilla (14), Wallowa (1), Wasco (3), Washington (23).

There were gains in containment over the weekend on all 6 major fires in Oregon that the Oregon Department of Forestry is tracking, down from 17 originally.

Fires are removed from the list when they are 100% lined and fire managers are confident in their progress toward containment. On that basis, the Thielsen Fire, which has not grown from 9,971 acres in days and is more than two-thirds contained, has been removed.

There have been more than 7,500 personnel assigned to these fires, not including many of the government employees, landowners, forestland operators, and members of the community who are contributing every day. There have been resources from 39 states and multiple Canadian provinces in this fight alongside Oregonians.

About 1 million acres have burned in Oregon since the start of this year, which is nearly double the 10-year average of approximately 557,811.

The Holiday Farm fire in Lane County is now at about 50% contained according to fire officials, and the Beachie Creek blaze in Marion County is 58% contained.

The Archie Creek and Thielsen fires in southern Oregon are both 69% contained.

Evacuees from the Holiday Farm fire are now asked to move to the newer evacuation center which will open Wednesday at 1489 Mohawk Boulevard in Springfield.

Organizers say families can get immediate relief items, such as food, clothes, school supplies, and other items.

This is the fourth location for the evacuation center. It first opened at Thurston High School, then moved to Springfield High School, then the Masonic Lodge near Autzen Stadium.  Between now and Wednesday, staffers are available to help with finding evacuees housing.

More evacuation levels have been downgraded for the Archie Creek Fire and Thielsen Fire.

Beginning today, Little River Road from New Bridge Road to the end of the road is no longer under a formal evacuation notice.

For the fire near Diamond Lake, all notices have been reduced to Level 1. This includes Diamond Lake Resort, all recreation areas and all residential and summer homes.

One area does remain at a Level 2 – Highway 138E at the Narrows Wayside (Idleyld Trading Post) to Steamboat Creek, including all side streets.

Contractors will be offering their services as people start to rebuild after the fires, but it is important to make sure anyone you choose to work with is licensed with the Oregon Construction Contractors Board. 

There are a number of scammers who have been targeting vulnerable people affected by the wildfires, which is why it is important to know the warning signs and tips on how to protect yourself. 

Warning signs include: 

  • Offering a very discounted rate 
  • “Limited time offer” due to leftover materials 
  • Using pressure style tactics and going door to door 

The most important thing you can do is verify the license of any Oregon contractor at the designated website

Near Portland, the Riverside fire, which prompted widespread evacuations in Clackamas County during Oregon’s recent run of massive blazes, is now 37% contained.   Over three inches of rain has fallen on the fire area over the past week, fire officials said Sunday. Sunny, dry and breezy conditions are expected Monday, but no significant growth of the 138,029-acre fire is expected.

Gov. Kate Brown is touring the fire area today.  Fire officials said during the tour that people should expect to see smoke from the blaze this week. The officials don’t expect significant fire growth, however.

Most large Oregon wildfires, including the Riverside blaze, did not grow from Sunday to Monday, according to figures released by the National Interagency Coordination Center.

The Slater fire in northern California and Josephine County was the only large blaze to advance during that time, growing about 250 acres. That fire is 38% contained.

Oregon’s largest wildfire, the 204,340-acre Lionshead blaze west of Warm Springs, is 34% contained.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management has posted the Oregon Wildfire Response & Recovery Update for today, to the Oregon Wildfire Resources page.

Coronavirus cases among employees of the White City VA Rehabilitation Center & Clinics have risen to the level of a workplace outbreak by the Oregon Health Authority’s standards, the officials confirmed on Friday.

The VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics Health Care System (VA SORCC) said that as of Thursday, the facility had six employees who had tested positive for coronavirus. Officials indicated that federal staff are conducting contact tracing, and have been in communication with Jackson County Public Health. Local officials will be reaching out to any veterans who had potential contact, along with the family of employees. The VA SORCC said that it began curtailing services on Friday to limit contact — transitioning to virtual care and a mobile pharmacy and lab.

Admissions to the facility are on hold, with veterans offered services by phone, telehealth, or virtual care.

Officials in Jackson County now say some 2,700 structures were destroyed in the Almeda fire that broke out just North of Ashland then roared through the cities of Talent and Phoenix and into the outskirts of Medford.

It now estimates that 2,357 residential structures were lost, and that three quarters — an estimated 1,748 units — were manufactured homes in a dozen mobile home parks that line Oregon 99 and Interstate 5. Authorities estimate some 3,000 residents were displaced. Even before the fire, Jackson County was dealing with an acute shortage of affordable housing. And in mere hours, the wildfire consumed a big chunk of the supply in the Rogue Valley, exacerbating the problem.

Elected officials and other local leaders are still trying to grasp the extent of the damage and address emergency needs – priorities that distract from beginning a more comprehensive rebuilding strategy. But it’s clear that recovering from this natural disaster will take years, and these Southern Oregon communities may never be the same. The damage was overwhelming in Jackson County. Jackson County was already suffering from an acute shortage of affordable housing. According to a 2018 housing study, an additional 5,380 affordable housing units were necessary to meet the need there- before the fire.

Certain Oregon disaster survivors who have lost work as a direct result of the Oregon Wildfires since September 7 are eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. That is according to FEMA.  DUA benefits are available to workers in eight Oregon counties that have been federally designated for disaster assistance.

Those counties include Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Douglas, Clackamas, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion. The purpose of the assistance is to help workers with primary incomes that have been lost or interrupted by a federally declared disaster. The assistance is funded by FEMA and administered by the Oregon Employment Department.  It differs from regular state unemployment insurance because it also provides benefits to people who are self-employed, farmers, loggers and employees who work on commission. In addition, it helps those who are unable to reach their place of employment or are unable to work because of an injury as a direct result of the fires.

To receive DUA, an individual must not receive regular state unemployment, pandemic emergency unemployment compensation or pandemic unemployment assistance. Claimants must also meet normal eligibility requirements for an Oregon Unemployment Insurance claim.

Aircraft are crisscrossing Oregon to help in wildfire recovery, thanks to highly trained volunteers from Civil Air Patrol.

As wildfires are being contained around Oregon, state and federal emergency leaders are seeking information on damage caused by fires that have scorched almost 1 million acres this year. Aircrews and teams on the ground are photographing key infrastructure in the fire zones, using high-resolution cameras that can produce detailed photographs.

Today – the 10th day of CAP’s wildfire response – pilots will fly over the Riverside, Beachie Creek, Archie Creek and Holiday Farm fires. Airborne photographers will submit their images to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Oregon Emergency Management (OEM) staff for evaluation.

Another four teams responded in vehicles from McMinnville, Wilsonville, Eugene and Medford, deployed to assess damage and take ground-level photos of facilities accessible by road.

The Oregon Wing has helped federal, state and local officials with aerial photography on many occasions. One such project was flooding in Salem, where CAP images helped city leaders determine the extent of flooding and what facilities needed repair. Oregon’s CAP volunteers also monitored highway and airport traffic during the total eclipse Aug. 21, 2017, relaying information to the state departments of transportation and aviation.

On Sunday, September 27, 2020 at approximately 1:48 P.M., Oregon State Police Troopers and emergency personnel responded to a person who fell from a cliff, into the ocean, at Devil’s Cauldron trail in Oswald West State Park.

Preliminary investigation revealed two people walked down the Devil’s Cauldron trail to take a photograph at a cliff side viewpoint.  Steven Gastelum (43) of Seaside, climbed a tree on the cliff’s edge to pose for a photograph.  A limb broke, on the tree, causing him to fall approximately 100 feet into the ocean.

US Coast Guard helicopter and Nehalem Bay Fire Department jet skis assisted in locating Gastelum and bringing him to shore.

Gastelum was transported to Tillamook Regional Medical Center by ambulance where he was pronounced deceased.

Law enforcement prepared for dueling rallies Saturday held just miles apart in North Portland. On Friday, Governor Kate Brown announced she would implement an order creating a joint incident command structure to handle the protests involving the right-wing Proud Boys group and anti-fascist counter demonstrators.

The protests remained mostly peaceful, however, there were some incidents of violence reported. Yesterday morning, the governor rescinded her order, saying the coordinated effort between city, county and state law enforcement was successful in keeping the groups separated, preventing violence, and protecting free speech.  The governor specifically pointed out the Proud Boys protesters were, in her words, “mostly out of towners” and were there to spread “hateful views”.

That comment comes despite the fact that overnight, Portland Police declared an unlawful assembly downtown and arrested several people, long after the Proud Boys contingent of a few hundred people had left the area.

United States Attorney Statement Regarding Ongoing Violence In Portland

Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, provides the below statement on ongoing violence in Portland:

“This nation’s most successful movement for racial equality and justice was led by a man dedicated to non-violent principles. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in nonviolence, winning his opponents’ friendship and understanding without humiliation, and he held a deep faith in the future. His aspirations for racial justice unquestionably remain unfinished, but his philosophy on how to achieve it remains just as relevant today.

George Floyd’s death has forced law enforcement and the justice system to closely examine our work and has led our society to ask critical questions. For more than 100 consecutive nights, Portland has been the center of large demonstrations and protests. Peaceful protests, public dialogue, and ongoing legislative and policy reviews at every level are essential to identifying solutions and bringing about meaningful and positive changes. Civility and respect are key elements to this process.

By contrast, there has been nothing civil, respectful, or positive about the nightly violent and destructive protests in Portland, Oregon. On many nights, after peaceful demonstrations end, violent agitators have physically attacked police officers and firefighters, damaged buildings, and repeatedly attempted to set public buildings on fire. These agitators include not just local residents but people who have travelled from out of state. 

On several occasions in August, demonstrations were held during the day where groups with opposing ideologies clashed and engaged in physical violence against one another. Following one of these political rallies, a man was shot and killed. Most recently, acts of violence towards law enforcement and first responders include a Portland firefighter being shot in the chest with a steel ball bearing launched from an arm-mounted slingshot, a man dousing several police officers with high-powered bear deterrent spray, a man punching a female police officer in the face, and a woman striking a police officer in the head from behind with a wooden shield.

This violent and senseless criminal conduct does nothing to promote meaningful or positive change. It forces the focus away from racial justice, instills fear in our community, and deters visitors. It is destroying the fabric of a city and a state that we love.

As a direct consequence of this criminal behavior and the media attention it generates, this community must now deal with the threat of even more outsiders traveling to Portland to participate in what they’ve been watching on social media and television for weeks. This too is not a new phenomenon for Portlanders. In August 2019, after a summer of violent clashes between opposing protest groups, several groups put out national calls for supporters to travel to Portland to join in a citywide melee.

Fortunately, despite hundreds of people answering this call and traveling to Portland, the outstanding work of the Portland Police Bureau and other local law enforcement agencies kept opposing groups mostly separated and violence to a minimum. The city now faces a similar scenario for Saturday, September 26th where numerous groups with opposing ideologies are gathering in the Portland area

This comes at a time when our community and state continue to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a major uptick in gun violence, and, now, massive wildfires burning across the state. Already limited public safety resources are fatigued and stretched thin. Our community deserves an end to the violence. Together, we need to call out violent agitators on the right and the left and stand up for civility.

Local residents and anyone traveling to Portland with the intent to commit violence are on notice. There will be consequences for acts of violence. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting people who impede or assault law enforcement officers, damage federal property, and set fire to buildings. Make no mistake: those who commit violence in the name of protest, will be investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and face prison time. Already more than 100 people have been arrested and more than 80 people are facing federal charges related to protest violence.

Our office will work closely with our law enforcement partners, including the FBI, to monitor criminal activity, and will bring federal charges where appropriate. We are committed to supporting our community and will help our law enforcement partners perform their essential public safety duties.”

Les Schwab Tire Center and Oregon FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) have partnered for a Drive Away Hunger Initiative to collect food and raise hunger awareness for the month of October.

The Drive Away Hunger initiative is one that Oregon FFA and Les Schwab Tire Centers have been partnering on annually since 2015. Each year Oregon FFA members, advisors, volunteers, Les Schwab employees, and our partnering stores across Oregon have worked together to increase the impact of the initiative.

Through Saturday, Oct. 31, non-perishable food donations can be dropped at any Les Schwab Tire Center, Wilco, or Grange Coop store. Last year the Oregon FFA’s Drive Away Hunger initiative helped raise 580,084 pounds of food, equal to 435,171 meals. The Oregon FFA is part of the National FFA Organization, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America. It is a national youth organization of 760,113 student members, all preparing for leadership and careers in the science, business, and technology of agriculture.

There are 8,739 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Oregon FFA is made up of more than 11,000 members in 114 chapters throughout the state.

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