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Dispatch from Oregon: 2020 Fires

Originally published September 2020

Tomorrow, Sunday, when this is published, things will be exactly the same. The 24-hour time span between this writing and when you read this, oh dear fan, will not make a difference.

Air quality index right now: 445. This equals “hazardous”. Also murk, dimness, thick clouds, sun a disc of neon orange that can’t warm the September air any higher than 60 degrees under this wrack. My phone still cheerily tells me today’s high will be 79 degrees. Ha! I tell it. You lie! Not down here!

Levity is easy to find. This is all so absurd. The continuous smell of smoke and thickness of the air, the layer of ash on the cars and driveway, back deck and spider webs. Stinging eyes. The dogs dislike to be outside, but maybe that’s because we are not outside.

I turned the heat on for the first time in four months. And it’s only September.

Basically, when you look at any fire map, you see that the entire Cascade Range is on fire. The Cascades are like a spine, traveling down the west-central areas of Washington and Oregon, colliding with the Sierra Nevadas and on down to the Mexican border. To the north, they trail into the Canadian Rockies. As far south as Mount Lassen in Northern California, the Cascade range is bumpy with volcanoes, most of which reside in Oregon. I can’t imagine what the volcanos are thinking, looking down at flames raging through their lower slopes, slopes they helped to form with the regular application of pyroclastic flows.

Last week, our phones, local radio, and emails warned us. Rare east winds would blast down the Cascade slopes with gusts capable of blowing trees onto power lines. Also these winds would bring the lowest humidity readings we had ever seen. It was “recommended” that people avoid open-flame activities. Right.

So the fires, mildly burning in the mountain ravines east of Salem, Eugene and Portland, three of Oregon’s largest cities, exploded to life.

Then the smoke came to camp in the Valley.

The volume and impact of the fires is hard to fathom; the media has been doing a pretty good job, although it took a while for them to shift their gaze from California to us.

Basically, when you look at any fire map, you can see that all of the West Coast is on fire. What is easy to fathom is the outpouring of help aimed at folks who have had to evacuate. All 500,000 of them. Many are housed at the Linn County Fairgrounds in eastern Albany, the county seat. Most who showed up there brought their RVs. And their horses, chickens, geese, goats and alpacas. Semis started showing up with feed. People drove in with crates of water and blankets. This was three days ago.

Now, county fairgrounds all over the western part of the state are jammed with RVs.

The smoke is not expected to clear out of the Valley until mid-next week. We are told the Pacific Ocean will come to our rescue, sending the sadly-missed marine flow over the Coastal Range.

People are amazing at times like this. No matter our differences, we come out to assist. On the app Next Door, our Albany group is sharing links to assistance, volunteer opportunities and news. When one benighted member posted a link to a raving rumor—that antifa (an “organization” that doesn’t exist as an organization) set the fires—Next Door members shut the idiot down. And this from folks that I know voted for you-know-who.

Right now the sky is an interesting amber. The husband says it’s like looking through a yellow filter on a camera, used for amplify contrast in black and white film. We are seeing a world in contrast, and who knows what the final photograph will look like. But one thing is sure. It will be more interesting.

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1 thought on “Dispatch from Oregon: 2020 Fires”

  1. Those fires brought the first of the electrical power shut downs. Half the county, my half up on Mt. Hood lost power for a week. We’re told this prevented many secondary fires and saved lives. The smoke was so thick we could not see across the street. In the midst of Covid we had masks and used them more because of smoke than infection. PGE, the power company, set up a community center at the middle school. Ice. Bottled water, snacks, generators to charge devices, and blessed information. Not exactly a party atmosphere, more a coming together, check on each other, lending a shoulder to cry on, and shouts of triumph as possibly lost ones reported in.

    It happened again last year, but only 4 days that time.

    Fires and outages have become a regularity rather than once in a lifetime.

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