Wyden: 1.5 million acres ablaze across western U.S.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden offered a shoulder of support to firefighters battling flames that he said have "hit our state like a wrecking ball" and set roughly 1.5 million acres ablaze across the western states.
"There aren't going to be a lot of big speeches," Wyden promised a scrum of reporters gathered Friday, Sept. 8 in Troutdale. Instead, he gave his thanks to those on the front lines.
"This morning, (first responders) are pretty sleep deprived — and they've probably had enough pasta over the last few days to last them for a long time," he noted.
But in a little speech, the 68-year-old heralded the agreements that have secured short-term federal funds to pay for efforts by firefighters. He said the cooperation was another example of the Oregon Way, a fair-play doctrine that the senator often highlights.
"It isn't the law, it isn't written down anywhere," Wyden explained. "It's just Oregonians stepping up… and coming forward and saying 'We're going to make sure our friends and neighbors aren't in jeopardy.'"
Firefighters have boxed in just 7 percent of the Eagle Creek wildfire, which has spread to 33,328 acres in East Multnomah County, according to the latest reports.
Stretches of the Columbia River remain closed to non-commercial traffic, and transportation officials say they still have no timeline for reopening Interstate 84 between Hood River and Troutdale.
Preliminary estimates suggest at least 2,000 damaged trees must be removed from the sides of I-84, and the freeway will remain closed through the weekend.
"I anticipate that number (of trees) to climb significantly once we get into areas that we cannot see into today," said ODOT manager Rian Windsheimer. "Within the interstate sections, I think we have a fairly good handle on what needs to be done. As you start looking at county roads (and the Historic Columbia River Highway), those are going to be significantly more."
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said deputies are continuing to work 12-hour shifts to protect lives and property, and several officers had recently discovered that portions of Palmer Mill Road had washed out in Bridal Veil.
U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Traci Weaver said helicopters would continue to perform bucket drops, and a planned burnout might occur near Corbett if humidity levels dropped in the afternoon.
While some citizens have expressed the urge to begin restoring the trails that crisscross the Gorge, Weaver suggested it might be some time before the public was allowed access.
"The smoke has shifted out of here," she remarked. "(But we) can only begin to imagine how many hazard trees are along our trails."
The senator from Oregon was in a classical mood on Friday, calling Congress' propensity to fund disaster response — rather than preventive forestry — both a long-running "Trojan War" and lawmakers' "Achilles Heel."
Wyden said he would continue to lobby Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, on that and other topics.