Fire, Weather

Oregon disaster declaration at White House and other fire updates

Burned trees at the Powerline Fire. photo: FGF&R

The state of Oregon was declared to be in an emergency on Thursday by the White House, a move that allows additional federal resources and funding to be deployed as the state grapples with unprecedented wildfires largely west of the Cascades. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already granted multiple requests for federal funding for individual fires throughout the state, according to press releases from the agency. 

Washington County announced their offices would close at 10 a.m. due to deteriorating air quality throughout the county. 

The city of Banks also said they would close early, with city hall, public works, and the Banks Public Library closing at 1 p.m.; the library plans to remain closed on Saturday as well.

Firefighters are gaining the upper hand on the Powerline Fire near Cherry Grove; some evacuation levels have been lessened, according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. 

At 9 a.m. Friday, Cherry Grove was returned to level 1; Lee, Herring, Cascara, and Dundee Roads were at level 2, and Hagg Lake remained closed to allow for air operations to take place. 

“The fire conditions have been favorable for us to downgrade evacuations as well as need fewer resources. Today, Oregon Department of Forestry will be taking command of the incident using local crews from ODF, Forest Grove, Cornelius, Gaston, Banks as well as contract crews and equipment. Today the focus will be on enforcing the containment lines even greater as well as putting out hot spots. You may see smoke from the area, but that’s areas burning within our containment area. The fire is still 175 acres in size and 50% containment. The containment portion is difficult to calculate in some areas due to very steep terrain,” Gaston Fire District said in an update on Friday on their Facebook page. 

West Oregon Electric Co-op said in a statement on Friday morning that they had been permitted to return to the Hagg Lake area to begin repairs on their power infrastructure there, but did not know the extent of the damage to their equipment yet. 

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office announced on Friday afternoon that two arrests on had been made of people who ignored fire-related road closures at Hagg Lake. According to the office, 59-year-old Clyde Willcutt of Portland was arrested on Thursday after his vehicle was located at the Twin Oaks turnout; according to deputies, he was arrested for driving on a criminally suspended license.

That same evening, deputies patrolling around the lake discovered a truck near Sain Creek and discovered 27-year-old Alejandro Galvan Acosta, of Portland, with an underage girl. He was arrested for sexual abuse in the second degree and unlawful delivery of marijuana to a minor.

There have not been any significant updates on the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak Fire; some people were allowed to return to their homes and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue has sent two teams to aid in fighting the fires in Clackamas County. More information can be found here

Clackamas County wildfires have prompted massive evacuations; and some of those fleeing the flames have ended up in Banks. Check out our story on the Clackamas Community College wrestling team in Banks. 

The Portland Branch of the National Weather Service outlined three reasons to be optimistic regarding fire and weather: 

“#1: Chances for rain return early next week; #2: Marine air gradually working inland next few days, pushing the worst of the smoke out; #3: The dry east winds are over, and with that the worst fire weather conditions are done.”

This article has been updated with arrest information.

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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