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Gov. Brown visits crews battling the Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon

Brown said the state has to rethink how it fights wildfires in an era of hotter, larger blazes — and mitigate dangers before they spark.
Credit: Herald and News
Oregon Governor Kate Brown elbow bumps Steven Herrera, a member of an Adventure Medic Rapid Extrication Module (REM), at the Bootleg fire camp near Bly, Ore., on July 28, 2021. The REM was responsible for helping locate the lost firefighter last week. Photo by Arden Barnes/Herald and News

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown visited the nation's largest wildfire on Wednesday, flying past 413,000 acres of burned forest in a helicopter, then speaking with fire officials in Bly.

After seeing the devastation, Gov. Brown said the state has to rethink how it fights wildfires in an era of hotter, larger blazes — and mitigate dangers before they spark.

“There is absolutely no question that we need to modernize our firefighting practices," she said.

Brown also acknowledged the difficulty that Klamath County communities, and the broader region, are facing in a summer compounded by COVID, drought and now wildfire.

RELATED: The water crisis in the Klamath Basin impacting farmers, Native American tribes

“My heart goes out to the people of the Klamath Basin," said Gov. Brown. "This is a really challenging summer, we know this is going to be an incredibly challenging fire season, and obviously we’ve got the challenges around drought."

Brown said the state is committed to assisting displaced families as quickly as possible, and said federal assistance is on the way. 

"This is an all hands on deck moment," she said, promising to call Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who is leading alongside Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) a delegation pushing for FEMA readiness. 

RELATED: The latest on the wildfires burning in Oregon and Southern Washington

Brown said there are other ways for the state to prove its readiness.

"We must do more of the preventative mitigation work (such as) the thinning and the prescriptive burning," she said from fire camp in Bly. "The goal is to eliminate biomass fuel off the forest floors so that you either prevent fires or if there are fires, it is not as damaging."

Brown said stopping wildfires before they start is smarter policy, but crews also need the manpower and funds necessary to fight them when they get out of hand. Brown said megafires are threatening Oregon communities, damaging to the environment, dangerous for firefighters and expensive for taxpayers.

“The challenge is these fires are substantially hotter, they are faster, they are simply much more ferocious than in decades past," she said. "So we have to make sure that we have both the people power and the equipment to tackle them."

Brown started her day in Klamath Falls. She visited the Bootleg Fire's incident command post, currently operating out of Klamath Community College, to meet with fire management teams.

RELATED: See what firefighters are facing on front lines of Bootleg Fire

Credit: Herald and News
Oregon Governor Kate Brown talks with fire officials and media at the Bootleg fire camp near Bly, Ore., on July 28, 2021. Photo by Arden Barnes/Herald and News

While there, Alison Green, public affairs officer for the Oregon Fire Marshal, said Gov. Brown received "some incident context and an operation briefing on what is still occurring on the ground."

Brown also met with John Davis, logging operations manager for Green Diamond Resources. Green Diamond owns thousands of acres of private timberlands that were destroyed by the Bootleg. Governor Brown also spent time at Kingsley Field, where she met with members of the National Guard assisting on the fire.

Brown then took a helicopter to Beatty, on the southern edge of the still-active wildfire. En route, she was able to see much of the fire damage.

Gov. Brown then toured the Bly Fire Camp Forward Operating Base and met with Ian Yocum, incident commander for the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Red Team. About 700 firefighters are living at the camp as of Wednesday, and are expected to remain there until the fire can be turned back to local oversight.

Travis Medema, chief deputy for the state fire marshal, as well as Doug Grafe, Oregon Department of Forestry’s forest protection chief, were also on hand.

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