Trump issues disaster declaration for wildfires; smoke declared public health emergency

SALEM, Ore. — President Donald Trump has issued an emergency declaration for Oregon due to the deadly wildfires that have burned across the state and federal officials have also declared a public health emergency as dangerous, smoky conditions continue.

The major disaster declaration, issued late Tuesday, allows a range of federal help for people and public infrastructure affected by the blazes.

The public health emergency declaration will give hospitals and other organizations in the state more flexibility to meet the needs of people who are on Medicare and Medicaid.

Wildfires raging across the state have burned more than 1,300 square miles. At least eight people have been killed.

And authorities say more than 1,140 residences have also been destroyed by the blazes and 579 other structures decimated.

“Oregon is resilient, but to fight fires on this scale, we need all the help we can get,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement. “I am grateful for the White House’s swift response in quickly granting a Presidential Disaster Declaration and the immediate implementation of FEMA’s individual assistance program, which will help bring additional relief to Oregonians impacted by the devastation of these fires.”

Additionally, Oregon’s congressional delegation announced Wednesday U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has granted the delegation’s request for a public health emergency declaration for the state of Oregon.

The public health emergency comes as smoke from unprecedented wildfires continues to blanket the state, and most of Oregon is suffering from hazardous air quality.  Portland’s air has ranked worst in the world among large cities in recent days.

“Oregonians choking on smoke and facing the massive challenge of unprecedented wildfires in the middle of a devastating pandemic fully realize the state faces a public health emergency,” Sen. Ron Wyden said. “I know from the devastation I saw throughout Oregon last weekend that while much work remains to be done for an overall response to this disaster, today’s announcement is both welcome and timely.”

With the Public Health Emergency, among other resources, Oregon is receiving:

  • An Incident Management Team (IMT) and regional emergency coordinators who will coordinate with state and local health authorities and emergency response officials, medical personnel, and oversee equipment deployment in response to the state’s request;
  • The activation of the National Disaster Medical System, which will provide technical assistance to state officials, and members from the Urban Search and Rescue Teams, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, and the Victim Information Center
  • Valuable data and tools to support counties’ emergency response, including the number of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electricity dependent medical equipment—such as dialysis and home oxygen—to help anticipate, plan for, and respond to the needs of at-risk populations.

“I am thankful to Secretary Azar for rapidly approving the public health emergency related to the wildfires in Oregon,” said Rep. Greg Walden This quick approval means that we have the resources to continue to fight COVID-19 while also having the additional resources to respond to the devastating fires. I am grateful that Oregon is continuing to receive the support from the Trump Administration to begin the recovery in Southern Oregon.”

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