After a week of depressing and sometimes terrifying news about the rash of wildfires that have swept across Oregon and destroyed communities, today Oregonians were given reasons for hope.
According to Governor Kate Brown, along with state fire and emergency officials in their press conference this afternoon, the dry, windy weather system that helped spread the blazes all week has finally broken down, and now wet, cooler air is coming in from the coast. And according to Doug Grafe, Chief of Fire Protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, that means firefighters can now turn from a defensive, life-safety approach to an offensive mode where they're actually able to dig in and battle the blazes.
But it's still a good idea to manage one's expectations. Brown reported that over a million acres have burned and 40,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Plus the massive fire that has forced Clackamas County into various stages of evacuation is an astounding 56 miles long, according to Grafe, and will be very challenging to extinguish. And while firefighters have made significant progress around the state, Grafe said that an estimated eight large fires across Oregon "will be with us until the winter rains come."
Andrew Phelps, Director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, noted that Oregonians should prepare themselves mentally for a "mass fatality event" as rescue workers will finally be able to enter into burned communities (including those in Jackson, Lane, and Marion counties) to search for the dead and missing.
That said, thanks to the change in weather and lots of on-the-ground support coming in from neighboring states, firefighters can now focus on the containment of blazes, and gaining access to areas that were impossible to reach earlier.
As for the hazardous smoke that remains over Portland, Brown says it's the worst in the world, and we can expect the thick haze to hang around well into the weekend. In the meantime, officials are recommending that people stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity. How long the smoke remains depends on how much firefighters can get accomplished in the next few days as they battle back the fires—but progress is being made, and now there's good reason for Oregonians to be cautiously optimistic.