As Oregon fires rage, Chavez-DeRemer joins push for higher firefighter pay

As fires rage in Oregon, U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer joined a bipartisan group of senators and representatives pushing to permanently boost pay for wildland firefighters. 

Federal wildland firefighters received temporary pay boosts through the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021, which ensured they make at least $15 per hour – wildland firefighters work a base 40 hours. They also received temporary raises of $20,000 or 50% of their base pay a year, whichever was less, in 2022. 

But those raises are set to expire on Sept. 30. Legislation proposed in the U.S. House and Senate aim to permanently increase pay for wildland firefighters and provide supplemental pay boosts for each day a firefighter is deployed to a fire. 

“I’m honored to join this bipartisan effort in support of our wildland firefighters, who run towards danger to keep our communities safe,” Chavez-DeRemer said in a statement. “Unfortunately, time is running out to ensure they continue receiving the pay they deserve.”

The Senate version of the bill, spearheaded by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Arizona, received a favorable vote out of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in July and is expected to be considered by the full Senate after it returns from its August recess. The House version, led by Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, was introduced last week and hasn’t yet been considered by any committees. 

So far, Chavez-DeRemer is the only member of Oregon’s congressional delegation signed on to either bill. 

At least eight wildfires were burning in the state as of Tuesday afternoon, including the newly ignited Fuzztail Fire burning 5 miles south of Bend. The largest uncontained fire, the Bedrock Fire, has burned more than 22,000 acres in the Cascade foothills east of Eugene and was only 20% contained.

The Bedrock Fire, as well as two others in eastern Lane County – the 135-acre Salmon Fire and 2,720-acre Lookout Fire – resulted in air quality alerts in the Eugene area and contributed to smoky conditions in Salem. About 140 homes are under evacuation notices because of the Lookout Fire and Bedrock Fire, according to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. 

To the southwest, the Flat Fire has burned nearly 34,000 acres in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest since mid-July and is expected to be fully contained by Sept. 1. 

The 2,100-acre Golden Fire east of Medford, 129-acre Boulder Fire southwest of Dufur and the 95-acre Ben Harrison Fire west of Baker City are both under control, though fire crews in eastern Oregon are paying close attention to the Ben Harrison Fire because the subalpine fir trees in the area are notorious for holding onto heat and reigniting. 

Much of the state is under red flag warnings because of hot, dry and windy conditions. Nearly every state park has a fire ban, as does Crater Lake National Park and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. 

Extreme heat has plagued western Oregon since Monday, but cooler temperatures are expected beginning late Friday. State and local health officials recommend drinking plenty of water, limiting time outside and physical activity if possible and finding cool places, such as public libraries and designated cooling centers, if they don’t have air conditioning at home. Oregonians can find information about hot weather resources in their area at 211info.org

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.