Sept. 9, 2020 — Throughout the Siuslaw region, residents woke up to smoke-filled skies Tuesday morning following a change in wind that brought smoke from wildfires in the Blue River and Detroit Lake area into the region.
In addition, strong wind gusts caused multiple issues with power lines in the area, from downed trees to arcing lines caused by swaying branches. Between approximately 9 and 11 p.m. Monday night, first responders from Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue (SVFR) received more than a dozen calls ranging from reports of house fires to brushfires as residents jammed the 911 line.
By a little after 11 p.m., it had been determined that there were no house fires and no brush fires in the immediate area, but downed power lines created power outages in some areas.
“There were several reported structure fires which thankfully all turned out to be people just smelling the smoke that moved into our area,” said SVFR Chief Michael Schick. “We also had multiple reports of power lines arcing throughout our district. We did have a discussion with the power company about possibly shutting down power in this area.”
Then, a little after midnight, reports of a brush fire up Highway 36 near milepost 7 proved to be true, along with a low-hanging power line across the highway. The fire grew to a little over 1 acre as fire crews from Swisshome/Deadwood Fire, Mapleton Fire, SVFR and the Oregon Department of Forestry fought to contain the blaze caused by a downed power line as it spread up the hill toward Village Loop residences.
“We moved to an ‘area command’ shortly after the weather event moved in, allowing us to control where our units were being dispatched,” Schick explained. “In this situation, 911 dispatch no longer sends out tones, they just add the call to our list on EnroutePro, which is our dispatching software.”
This allowed first responders to control the number of units responding to any one call while also making sure crews could cover the multiple calls happening in the district.
“It also helped reduce the burden on our dispatchers who were being overwhelmed with 911 calls,” said Schick.
A Level 3 (Go) evacuation notice was given to the Village Loop area near Deadwood around 1 a.m., but by 3 a.m. the fire had been essentially extinguished, allowing residents to return home. Crews continued mop up to prevent flare-up into Tuesday morning.
Issues with downed power lines continue due to heavy wind gusts, including a small fire caused by power lines that closed Mercer Lake Road for the first half of Tuesday as crews dealt with steep, brushy terrain.
Winds are expected to continue through at least Thursday, bringing smoke from the Blue River fire east of Lane County into the Siuslaw region and creating unhealthy air conditions in the area, according to the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA).
“We have been receiving a deluge of calls from concerned citizens this morning and we are doing our best to educate the public about what is going on in our area,” said Schick.
As smokey conditions continue, residents are asked to refrain from calling 911 due to smoke, unless fire or flames are visible.
To have official updates or information sent to your phone, residents can sign up for emergency alerts through www.ci.florence.or.us/community/register-your-cell-phone-receive-emergency-notification-alerts. This service allows fire, police and other emergency response agencies to issue emergency alerts to warn citizens of events such as severe weather, fire, flooding, hazardous materials, need for immediate evacuation, civil danger, local area emergencies and missing persons.
People can also enter their address or zip code to receive advanced warning of severe weather or emergencies that directly impact the area. In the event of a life-threatening emergency, alerts will be delivered through priority channels including phone calls and/or priority text messages.
Non-emergency notifications are received through text and email.
To check the air quality in your area, visit LRAPA’s website at https://www.lrapa.org/216/Todays-Current-Air-Quality.