With too few personnel out fighting the Holiday Farm Fire — 200 people for a 145,000 acre fire as of Sept. 10 — damaged communication towers and a state with 900,000 acres currently burning, and 500,000 people with evacuation warnings or orders, according to Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management, we are craving news updates. What is happening right now? Are we in danger? Should we evacuate? Can we drink the water? Who can we blame for these fires?
There is a lot of information out there, and probably even more misinformation. If in doubt, check with a trusted news source before you share a meme or a post.
For Lane County, the county’s McKenzie Fires page is updated every time there is new information. For statewide info go to Wildfire.Oregon.gov.
And for some of the other rumors, we have put together a fact check for you.
Stay safe, stay healthy and if you have a rumor you need checked out, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rumor: Antifa is setting fires in rural Oregon to protest racism.
Fact: FALSE. While there have been incidents such as a man allegedly setting fires in Dexter State Recreation Site, and human-caused fires are not uncommon this time of year, there are no substantiated incidents of “antifa” or anyone else lighting fires for political reasons. Rural fire departments and police have been debunking these rumors. The FBI announced they too have “investigated several such reports and found them to be untrue.” The FBI adds, “Conspiracy theories and misinformation take valuable resources away local fire and police agencies working around the clock to bring these fires under control.” The only thing political about the Holiday Farm and other 2020 wildfires is some politicians’ refusal to understand and act on the science of climate change.
Rumor: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has not called in the National Guard.
Fact: FALSE. Google is your friend, a quick internet news search before you share that meme would tell you the Governor’s Office is already working with the National Guard. Check out the story EW posted yesterday.
Rumor: Why has Gov. Kate Brown not declared a state emergency?
Fact: FALSE. See the story we linked above. She did, here is a link to the declaration. And Rep. Peter DeFazio announced Sept. 10 that the White House approved Oregon’s emergency declaration request, which will bring federal aid to the state.
Rumor: All of Vida is burned and the Goodpasture Covered Bridge is too.
Fact. FALSE. Current information from the Holiday Farm Fire Facebook page, the official information source for Holiday Farm, aka McKenzie fire, says that despite earlier reports to the contrary many structures in Vida and surrounding areas, including McKenzie High School and the covered bridge, are OK. EW had early information saying Vida and the covered bridge, like Blue River were largely destroyed. Our information was wrong, and we apologize and have updated our story. Now you can update your Facebook posts, too.
Rumor: Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) will shut off power to prevent fires.
Fact: FALSE. On Tuesday, EWEB said that it did not have any planned outages at the time and has not mentioned planned outages since. EWEB said some Eugene customers in forested areas such as the south hills could have faced preemptive electric outages Sept. 9 due to wind, but that did not end up happening. EWEB is also working to fix outages from the wind storm earlier this week. Joe Harwood, EWEB spokesman, says out in the fire zones “EWEB substations that provide electricity for the Thurston area all the way east to Vida have been deenergized.” And the “EWEB transmission line from Carmen-Smith west is offline.”
Rumor: EWEB water out of the McKenzie River is unsafe to drink and contaminated with ash or chlorine.
Fact: FALSE. Despite potential differences in odor and taste people are reporting, your McKenzie River tap water is still perfectly safe to drink. EWEB has increased its monitoring of raw and treated water for pollutants from the fire. EWEB is also taking other precautions and are trying to mitigate the cloudiness. “We want to assure all customers that the water drawn from the lower McKenzie River and then treated at the Hayden Bridge Filtration Plant is safe to drink. Our drinking water continues to meet or exceed all state and federal health standards,” EWEB writes in a statement. EWEB also says it has a fire suppression crew to protect the water plant.
Rumor: Ash falling into your pets water will turn it into lye and harm your animals.
Fact: FALSE. You need a lot of ash to make lye and it needs to be hardwood, not soft , Douglas fir, which makes up much of Oregon’s forests is a softwood, although it is harder than many other softwoods like pine. That said, ashy water does have its own problems, as people in Australia discovered after their own epic fires, so do make sure your water is clean at some point, just don’t freak out right now.
Rumor: If you go back to a Level 3 evacuation zone you will be arrested regardless of your reasoning.
Fact: FALSE. Lane County Spokesperson Devon Ashbridge told Eugene Weekly that no one should be entering the evacuated zones. The areas are still dangerous if there is any active fire, falling debris, power lines etc. She says getting law enforcement involved and arresting people is not a first choice and hinders the firefighters’ abilities to do their job. She points out: “If someone has to arrest you, fewer people will be fighting the fire.” There were two men arrested and charged for looting in the Santiam Canyon wildfire zone.
Rumor: More than 10 percent of Oregon’s population has been evacuated due to the fires.
Fact: FALSE. It’s not so much a rumor as a statistic that was quoted by the Associated Press, The New York Times and newspapers across the country. A press release from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (referenced at the beginning of this piece) said “An estimated 500,000 Oregonians have been evacuated and that number continues to grow.” However The Oregonian crunched the numbers and came up with a very different total: More like 40,000 have evacuated. The O writes, “Oregon’s governor on Friday afternoon clarified that only about 40,000 Oregonians had been evacuated, with 500,000 total under some sort of notice to evacuate or to prepare for evacuation.” For those of us who have evacuated or are under Level 1 and 2 warnings, that’s still a lot.
Rumor: This photo was taken during the Oregon fires.
Fact. FALSE. This photo of elk in a river in a forest fire is a perennial — partly because it was taken by a Bureau of Land Management employee using a government camera and is thus in the public domain. But it was taken in Montana in August 2000.
Rumor: The Red Cross is running out of sheltering options for Holiday Farm Fire evacuees.
Fact: In a Facebook post, the Lane County government said the rumor is untrue and that there are still sheltering options available. Evacuees looking for a place to stay can call Red Cross Cascades Region at 541-214-4999.
Rumor: 2020 is the worst year ever.
Fact. And it’s not over yet.