Gas Stations Contend With Western Wildfires

At least 33 people have died as fires rage in California, Oregon, other states.

September 14, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As nearly 100 wildfires rage in California, Oregon, Washington and at least 10 other Western states, convenience stores and gas stations in their path are working to stay safe and supplied as residents face evacuation orders.

Fires have consumed nearly 7,000 square miles, and at least 33 people have died—22 in California, 10 in Oregon and one in Washington state. On Friday, the mayor of Portland declared a state of emergency as wildfires neared the city.

Yesterday, a Red Flag warning was in effect in parts of Northern California and Oregon, indicating extreme fire conditions and low humidity, the Wall Street Journal reports. On the Oregon coast, cooler weather and expected rain, however, should help firefighters battling the blazes, the Portland Tribune reports.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said more than one million acres have burned across the state in the past week, and more than 500,000 people statewide are under various levels of evacuation orders due to wildfires, USA Today reports. “To put that into perspective, over the last 10 years, an average of 500,000 acres burn in an entire year. We’ve seen nearly double that in 3 days,” Gov. Brown wrote on Twitter.

The Mail Tribune in Medford, Oregon, reported last week that Rogue Valley gas stations were struggling to meet demand as residents fueled up to evacuate the area, and fuel trucks’ routes were hampered by the wildfires. “There are multiple gas stations without any fuel to sell and once the delivery arrives, lines quickly form at the pumps,” the newspaper reported. In addition, some gas stations are allowing customers to pump their own gas “as employees deal with the devastation these wildfires have brought to the Rogue Valley.” Oregon is one of two states that require gas station employees to pump motorists’ gas.

South of Medford, trucker Troy Wood shared with USA Today the destruction he saw as he was driving north on Interstate 5 toward the town. “It looked like a ... war zone,” Wood said. “You could see burned out gas stations and buildings on fire.”

One resident of Talent, Oregon, shared her evacuation story with Hawaii News Now. “It was really scary—all of the gas stations were evacuated, but in Oregon it’s illegal to pump your own gas, so if you were out of gas you were out of luck,” Jade Mahoe told her hometown news outlet. “And it was just so frightening to see like buildings that I would drive past everyday just combusted into flames or burned to the ground.”

As residents evacuate, gas stations served as a place to find food and clean restrooms. In Oregon, store parking lots became makeshift camping grounds, the New York Times reports. In Clackamas County, Adriana Amaro said two dozen members of her extended family have been camping out in their vehicles in a grocery store parking lot and using the bathrooms at a nearby gas station.

In California, at least 29 major wildfires are burning, with 14,000 firefighters trying to contain them. More than three million acres have burned so far this year. In the northern part of the state, at least 20,000 people were under evacuation orders. In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Since January, wildfires have burned almost 5,000 square miles in California, and there’s at least seven weeks to go in the prime fire season, USA Today reports.

A resident of Healdsburg, which was under an evacuation warning in late August, told the Los Angeles Times that her two adult daughters work at a gas station and a convenience store, and she didn’t plan to evacuate without them. Essential businesses remain open until there is a mandatory evacuation order.

In Washington state, fires have consumed more than 600,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, and 15 large fires raged yesterday.

The American Red Cross is helping residents in West Coast states affected by the wildfires, along with ongoing support for residents in Louisiana who are still cleaning up after Hurricane Laura. To donate to the Western Wildfire relief, Hurricane Laura relief or the general disaster relief fund, click here.

To read about how to prepare for natural disaster in the age of COVID-19, read “Coronavirus, Hurricanes and Other Disasters, Oh, My!” in the August issue of NACS Magazine.

The NACS Convenience Store Emergency Planning and Job Aid resources help convenience stores identify and enhance their resiliency as they plan, prepare and recover from a disaster. Watch the six preparedness videos, or download the guides at www.convenience.org/disasterplan. There’s a free mobile app, too, with all of the job aids and videos, so employees can easily access them on their phones in an emergency. Go to www.saberspace.org/nacs-app.html and complete the brief enrollment, then download the app on your Apple or Android mobile device.

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