Rogue Valley News, Monday 5/17 – Fire Season Starts Early for Southern Oregon Due to Drought Conditions, Several Wildfires Start Following Lightning Strikes in Jackson County

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com

Monday, May 17, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Today– Sunny, with a high near 83. Light northwest wind becoming west northwest 5 to 10 mph in the afternoon.

Tuesday– Mostly sunny, with a high near 69. Northwest wind 3 to 8 mph.

Wednesday– A 20 percent chance of showers after 11am. Snow level 3300 feet rising to 4000 feet in the afternoon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 63. Light northwest wind increasing to 5 to 9 mph in the afternoon.

Thursday– A 20 percent chance of showers. Snow level 3000 feet rising to 4200 feet in the afternoon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 65.

Friday– Mostly sunny, with a high near 67.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Coronavirus-update-1-4.jpg

Oregon reports 507 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 2 new deaths

There are two new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,587 the Oregon Health Authority reported 507 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 195,684.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Benton (7), Clackamas (45), Columbia (3), Coos (12), Crook (6), Deschutes (58), Douglas (7), Jackson (15), Jefferson (5), Josephine (6), Klamath (20), Lane (39), Lincoln (3), Linn (39), Malheur (3), Marion (90), Multnomah (96), Polk (9), Washington (30), and Yamhill (14).

Oregon’s 2587th death is an 88-year-old man from Jackson county who tested positive on Apr. 22 and died on Apr. 22 at Providence Medford Medical Center. He had underlying conditions.

Vaccinations in Oregon

Today, OHA reported that 23,075 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 18,438 doses were administered on May 15 and 4,637 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on May 15.

As of today, there are 2,061,755 people who have had at least one dose of a vaccine. A total of 1,470,984 have received a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

The seven-day running average is now 29,334 doses per day.

Oregon has now administered a total of 3,538,855 million vaccine doses, which includes: 1,942,650 first and second doses of Pfizer; 1,473,499 first and second doses of Moderna; 121,124 single doses of Johnson & Johnson (1,582 doses were administered but vaccine product information was not specified).

Cumulative daily totals can take several days to finalize because providers have 72 hours to report doses administered and technical challenges have caused many providers to lag in their reporting. OHA has been providing technical support to vaccination sites to improve the timeliness of their data entry into the state’s ALERT Immunization Information System (IIS).

These data are preliminary and subject to change. OHA’s dashboards provide regularly updated vaccination data, and Oregon’s dashboard has been updated today.

COVID-19 hospitalizations

The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 339, which is seven more than yesterday. There are 82 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which is seven more than yesterday.

The total number of COVID-19 positive patient bed-days in the most recent seven days is 2,376, which is a 2.2% increase from the previous seven days. The peak daily number of beds occupied by COVID-19 positive patients in the most recent seven days is 351.

The total number of patients in hospital beds may fluctuate between report times. The numbers do not reflect admissions per day, nor the length of hospital stay. Staffing limitations are not captured in this data and may further limit bed capacity. More information about hospital capacity can be found here.

To Mask of Not to Mask – Oregon considers vaccine passport requirement to remove mask in businesses

Though Governor Kate Brown says that Oregon will embrace the CDC’s newly-loosened mask and distancing guidance, Oregon officials say that the responsibility for verifying vaccination status will fall on businesses and other organizations if they want to follow the new recommendations.

State epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger held a briefing with members of the media on Friday, delivering an update on the current state of COVID-19 in Oregon and giving more information about how the state will handle the CDC changes. Sidelinger said that Oregon’s daily COVID-19 case rate has been falling, if slowly, and hospitalizations have plateaued without seeing a significant drop. With OHA guidance still forthcoming, Sidelinger did not go into detail about how this process will be enforced.

Businesses will still have the choice of adhering to current risk level requirements and eschewing the changes for vaccine verification entirely. What businesses can’t do, Sidelinger said, is decide to serve only vaccinated or un-
vaccinated customers.

Grocery store chains in Oregon including Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons, New Seasons and QFC said they would keep requiring all customers to wear masks for now.

Looks like we’ll have to wait a bit still to know exactly what to do in each county and community.

LOCAL HEADLINES:

Fire Season Starts Early for Southern Oregon Due to Drought Conditions

Jackson and Josephine County have started fire season early. The agency has already responded to more than 50 fires in the area.

Fire season has come a month early for other counties in Southern and Central Oregon, leading to preparations for what could be another major wildfire season.

For Some in Oregon, Fire Season Comes to an End

The Oregon Department of Forestry declared a Saturday start to fire season in Klamath and Lake counties. Earlier red flag warnings, warmer temperatures and lack of rain have set the state up for what could be the worst drought in decades. That has fire officials prepping counties earlier than usual for abnormally dry weather and severe conditions that could lead to wildfires.

A dangerous fire season looms as the drought-stricken Western US heads for  a water crisis

“Where we are at with fuel conditions, lack of spring rains, extreme and exceptional drought, and continuous fire activity in Klamath County, Lake County, and around the state, Klamath-Lake District will be declaring fire season on Saturday,” ODF Protection Unit Forester Randall Baley said in a statement. “The total package of conditions all adds up to make the public aware of the situation and minimize the potential for human-caused fires.”

According to the Department of Forestry, the state has recorded 132 fires that burned 3,246 acres so far this year. People started all of those fires.

Fire season was also declared in Prineville and The Dalles starting Saturday. The agency said it is the earliest they have declared a fire season in more than four decades. This year, ODF’s Central Oregon District has already seen a significant increase in fires. On a 10-year average, the area experiences about 10 fires burning just 32 acres in total around this time of year. As of now, there have been 22 human-caused fires and more than 200 acres burned.

During fire season, activities like backyard debris burning and the use of exploding targets and tracer ammunition is prohibited. Fire officials have also been advising people in recent weeks to prepare their homes if they live in an area susceptible to wildfires. Those preparations include clearing debris for defensible space around a home and having evacuation routes planned in case of a wildfire.

Several Wildfires Start Following Lightning Strikes in Jackson County

According to the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest District, several wildfires ignited Friday afternoon after lightning strikes struck Northern Jackson County.

The largest fire was estimated to be a quarter of an acre and was located off of Highway 62 near Crowfoot road. ODF resources  alongside Jackson County Fire District 4 and Fire District 3 responded to that fire and have since contained and mopped up the flames.

There were at least three reported fires after lightning strikes hit the northern part of Jackson County. ODFSW also says that all three of those fires have since been contained and mopped up.

ODFSW also states that it will continue to monitor the area for fires started by lightning strikes over the next few weeks.

If you notice black smoke in an area where a lightning strike has occurred, ODFSW asks that you please call 911 to report the incident. 

7th Street Traffic in Grants Pass Diverted for Disorderly Man on Railroad Scaffolding

On Saturday, May 15, 2021 at approximately 7:15 AM, the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety 911 center received emergency calls regarding a male subject on top of the railroad scaffolding on 7th St. Police, Fire/Rescue, and medical units with AMR were dispatched to the scene. 

Motorized and potential  railroad traffic were halted and diverted while Police and Fire personnel began addressing the man on top of the 15-20-foot-high scaffolding. 

Early in their contact with the man, police determined he was in crisis , and possibly under the influence of an intoxicant.  Fire/Rescue requested their fire apparatus equipped with a ladder and platform respond to the scene.  Police utilized the arial platform to position themselves close enough so they could speak to the man. 

Members from the GPDPS Crisis Negotiations Team (CNT) were activated, as well as members from the Mobile Crisis Team.  The  Mobile Crisis Team is comprised of clinicians who work for Options of Southern Oregon, but who partner with the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety. The partnership enables rapid contact from mental health professionals to those who are experiencing a mental health crisis. 

As those units were responding, officers continued to de-escalate the situation.  As CNT and the Mobile Crisis Team were arriving, the man later identified as 41-year-old Arthur Cassidy agreed to climb down off the scaffolding.  Cassidy was taken into custody uninjured. 

Officers with the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety receive training in crisis intervention which was critical in this incident that lasted one and a half hours.  Cassidy was lodged at the Josephine County Jail for disorderly conduct, and criminal trespass. There, he will be seen by mental health and other services.  The Grants Pass Department of Public Safety would like to thank the public for being patient as we took the time to resolve this matter successfully.  — Grants Pass Dept. of Public Safety

AROUND the STATE of OREGON

Eugene Police Department Warns Of Fentanyl in Fake Prescription Drugs and Rise In Overdose Deaths

There has been a significant increase in overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl, according to the Eugene Police Department. Most commonly, these deaths have been linked to fake prescription drugs that are actually fentanyl, police said. 

The fake prescription drugs are usually not white in appearance whereas the actual prescriptions are white and occasionally a very light blue color. Police said the fake drugs are commonly bright blue. 

Fake opioid drugs sold in SW Kansas

The “M” on one side and the “30” on the other are stamped to make the pill appear to be oxycodone hydrochloride, which is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Officials said these are fake and actually contain fentanyl.

Fake prescription medications can be identified by the color and by looking at the stamping on the pill, police said. The fake pills do not have the same manufacturing standards and the imprinting on the pill is usually not well defined or professional in appearance.

Fentanyl is around 100 times stronger than morphine and around 50 times stronger than heroin. Very small amounts of this drug can kill, according to police.

Wrong-way Driver Dies in Collision with Semi-truck on I-5 Near Harrisburg

Oregon State Police troopers and emergency personnel responded to a vehicle crash on Interstate 5 near milepost 208 around 10:30 Sunday night.

“Preliminary investigation revealed a Honda Civic was the subject of several complaints for poor driving northbound on I-5,” OSP said.

As troopers were still responding to the area, the Civic turned around and proceeded southbound in the northbound lanes. The Civic collided with a northbound semi-truck driven by a Live Oak, Calif. man.

The driver of the Civic sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased, OSP said. “The name will be released when appropriate,” police said. The driver of the semi-truck was not injured in the crash.

OSP was assisted by Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Harrisburg Fire Department, and ODOT.

4.1 Earthquake Strikes 100 Miles West of Southern Oregon Coast

A 4.1-magnitude earthquake shook the bottom of the Pacific Ocean around 8 a.m. Sunday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which tracks the events. The quake struck about 100 miles west of Port Orford.

It was the 10th-strongest earthquake off Oregon’s coast in 2021 so far, coming about two-and-a-half weeks after three separate quakes set just as many still-unbeaten records for the year. The strongest among them hit magnitude 5.4.

Mini-earthquakes strike often near Oregon’s coast, a regular reminder of the cataclysmic earthquake geologists say will happen when the pressure building between the Juan de Fuca and North American plates breaks.

Per Oregon officials, scientists say there is a 37% chance that a 7.1 magnitude or higher earthquake will happen at the boundary between the two tectonic plates, called the Cascadia Subduction Zone, in the next 50 years.

USGS Magnitude 2.5+ Earthquakes: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/map/?extent=9.1021,-151.25977&extent=59.31077,-38.75977

Lawsuit Seeks $103M from Public Utilities over Holiday Farm Fire

A lawsuit filed on behalf of 70 landowners in Oregon’s McKenzie River Valley seeks $103 million from Lane Electric Cooperative and Eugene Water and Electric Board for damages linked to one of the Labor Day fires that ravaged communities around the state.

The Holiday Farm fire killed one person and destroyed 430 homes. The plaintiffs contend that the two utilities failed to de-energize their power lines despite widespread forecasts for extreme fire weather.

An official cause of the fire hasn’t been released, but the lawsuit says fires started when tree branches contacted power lines east of Eugene.

“The Holiday Farm Fire devastated our clients’ homes, timber, and businesses. It was a life-altering event for our clients,” said Rick Klingbeil of Salem Fire Lawyers.

Joe Harwood, a spokesman for the Eugene Water & Electric Board, stated that the lawsuit “contains claims that are based upon a significant factual error.” As designed, he said, the utility’s lines in the Holiday Farm area de-energized automatically several hours before the blaze ignited on Sept. 7, 2020.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Lane County Circuit Court, is one of multiple that claim utility negligence was responsible for much of the devastation.

PacifiCorp faces similar lawsuits from residents in the Beachie Creek and Santiam Canyon fires, the Echo Mountain Complex near Lincoln City, the Archie Creek fire along the North Umpqua, and the Slater fire on the Oregon/California border.

Oregon Businesses Closed by the Thousands Early in the Pandemic but Most Have Come Back

Nearly 13,000 Oregon businesses closed during the spring of 2020, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics compiled by state economic development agency Business Oregon.

That’s an astonishingly high number – the largest tally in nearly 30 years, and nearly double any single quarter on record. In a typical quarter, about 5,500 Oregon businesses close permanently.

Last spring’s closures didn’t last, though.

Over the next three months, Oregon recorded 11,600 business openings – another record. Most of those were businesses that closed briefly, according to Business Oregon, then reopened after the “stay home” order that accompanied COVID-19′s arrival in Oregon in March 2020.

The gap between businesses that closed in the spring and opened in the summer numbers more than 1,100. Those could be businesses that closed permanently, but the bureau doesn’t officially classify them as gone forever until they report no employment at all for four consecutive quarters.

The number of Oregon businesses that closed from July through September of last year, the latest period for which the bureau has published data, was only marginally higher than in the same period a year ago.

There are other signs that Oregon businesses have held up during the pandemic. The number of new businesses in the state increased 3.9% last year despite the pandemic, and the number of bankruptcies fell sharply.

Economists credit billions of dollars in federal aid with helping sustain businesses through the heart of the pandemic. Business owners got creative, too, adapting their approach to serve customers remotely and see themselves through the pandemic.

While Oregon is emerging from the pandemic, many businesses say they’re still on the edge – and a labor shortage could add pressure through the summer. So more businesses may yet founder.

Overall, though, the business closure data is another indication that Oregon’s steepest, deepest recession wasn’t nearly as bad as feared.

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