WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio led Oregon’s bipartisan Congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Greg Walden, Kurt Schrader, and Suzanne Bonamici in urging rapid approval of Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s request for the Major Disaster declaration amid unprecedented wildfire damage across the state.
The Major Disaster Declaration — which will build upon last week’s Emergency Declaration — will free up even more federal resources that will be put to use across Oregon. Since the original Emergency Declaration was made on Thursday, Sept. 10, the death toll has climbed, entire communities have been destroyed, hazardous smoke has blanketed much of the state, and firefighters have continued to struggle to contain blazes.
“The damage from the wildfires across Oregon is catastrophic, and the scale of the recovery is beyond the capabilities of the state,” DeFazio said. “I’m grateful for the White House’s swift action in declaring a Major Disaster. This decision will make more Federal aid available for survivors of the fires and give communities the resources they need to start to rebuild.”
DeFazio is chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response and recovery authorities under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act). As Chair, he oversees FEMA’s activities relating to disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery, as well as Federal assistance to state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency managers and first responders.
DeFazio’s role puts him in a unique position to work with congressional leaders, the White House, and the heads of Federal departments to help Oregon respond to and recover from the 2020 wildfires that are currently ravaging the state. Last week, after receiving a briefing from the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, the U.S. Forest Service, state fire marshals, and first responders, DeFazio connected with Governor Kate Brown to encourage her to request a Major Disaster declaration from the White House, in addition to her already pending request for an Emergency declaration. That same day, he spoke with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows supporting the Emergency request and stressing the need for an eventual Major Disaster, which would include more Federal assistance for disaster survivors. He also reached out to President Trump and FEMA Administrator Gaynor urging a swift approval of the Governor’s request. The following day, Trump approved the Emergency declaration for Oregon.
In addition, DeFazio has regularly attended interagency briefings on the Holiday Farm Fire response and has traveled to Roseburg, OR to meet with and hear from responders to the Archie and French Creek fires. He was also able to help the US Forest Service secure much-needed aerial imagery to help combat the fires.
“This weekend, I drove over 600 miles from Portland to Medford and back — meeting with first responders, talking to people who have suffered terrible loss, witnessing unimaginable devastation. It’s clear that our state is going to need an unprecedented amount of support in our response and recovery,” Merkley said. “The swift approval of this Major Disaster Declaration is a testament to the severity of this crisis, and I thank the firefighters, first responders, and volunteers who are doing everything they can to help their neighbors safe. Together we will come back from this tragedy.”
“The devastation I witnessed this past weekend from wildfires throughout Oregon clearly adds up to an urgent need for federal assistance that helps families and small businesses respond now to this disaster,” Wyden said. “There’s still much more that must be done, but this major disaster declaration takes an essential step toward the release of crucial federal resources that starts to move countless Oregon communities suffering loss and heartbreak to communities on the road to recovery.”
“The damage these wildfires have caused is unprecedented and the devastation heartbreaking,” Blumenauer said. “After spending time with local leaders, first responders, and families this week, it’s clear that the journey to recovery will be long and painful. The approval of this Major Disaster Declaration request is a critical step to ensure our local communities have every possible resource to overcome circumstances beyond challenging.”
“On Monday, I spoke with President Trump and urged swift approval of Oregon’s Major Disaster Declaration and I am grateful for his quick response,” said Walden. “This declaration will help make assistance available to both individuals devastated by the fire and our communities across the state as they recover and rebuild. The tragic wildfires in Oregon mean we all need to work together to help those who have lost so much. We will recover and rebuild and come back stronger - that is the Oregon way.”
“I am heartbroken by the devastation that I witnessed in Oregon’s Fifth Congressional district,” said Schrader. “The loss of life, homes and property is truly catastrophic. This declaration will help federal, state and local officials get help to where it is urgently needed. I am grateful to the White House for the swift declaration of a Major Disaster in Oregon.”
“The multiple wildfires in Oregon have already devastated many families and communities, leaving them without the support and resources they need to survive and begin to recover,” Bonamici said. “My thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones and homes. I’m encouraged that our request to approve Governor Brown’s Major Disaster Declaration was quickly heeded so we can promptly send more help where it is desperately needed. I will continue to do all I can to get relief and support to our communities as we continue to assess the devastation across our state in the coming weeks and months.”
Governor Brown’s major disaster request included requests for individual and household assistance, public assistance to state and local governments and select nonprofit organizations that are executing emergency work, repairs, and efforts to prevent or reduce long term risk to life and property from the fires.