As wildfires began consuming communities across Oregon this week, leaders at the state emergency management office fired off an email to counterparts around the country, pleading for 10 firefighting strike teams that could bring 50 extra engines to the region.
The state got one commitment: Utah would send a team with five engines.
Facing a historic year of wildfire destruction across the West Coast, including more than three million acres consumed in California, the national emergency systems that rely on state-to-state assistance have been buckling under the strain. That has left emergency responders struggling to keep pace with fires that have destroyed entire towns and led to at least 15 deaths, with seven more people found dead on Thursday from a fire north of Sacramento.
“I don’t know that we have any fires where we can say we have got enough resources to do what we need to do,” Andrew Phelps, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, said.
Fires continued to rage in southern Oregon, where hundreds of homes have been razed, as well as east of Salem, where two bodies have been found, and along the state’s coast. More than 900,000 acres have burned, nearly double a typical season. Hundreds of thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate, including parts of the Portland suburbs, where fires were still on the move.
In California, firefighters continued to battle the blazes of a remarkable wildfire season, including the August Complex burning in the Mendocino National Forest that is now the largest fire in the state’s recorded history.
In Washington, hundreds of homes and other structures were at risk of wildfires that continued to burn, even as a deadly stretch of dry winds from the East began to ease. Hilary Franz, the state’s commissioner of public lands, said the state was searching for help from elsewhere in the country.
So many state aid requests have gone to the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group, which helps direct wildfire resources, that the group has been left to decide which ones get priority. Dan Smith, a member of the group who is also fire director for the National Association of State Foresters, said that as of Thursday morning there were over 300 requests for support that could not be fulfilled.