More than 500,000 People in Oregon Flee Wildfires

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Oregon’s wildfire crisis has crept up as a surprise to me. No good reason why, as I’ve been keeping on top of the California armageddon, with three close friends who are affected – two who live in San Jose and one who grew up in Atascadero. He no longer lives there, but his mother and two sisters and their families do.

I’ve been checking in with all three frequently. So what’s going on in California is no surprise to me.  But not so thus far for the wider catastrophe.

The California crisis intersects with the prison pandemic, and I’ve posted on the topic a couple of times.

Yet I now see that the Oregon crisis is also dire. As the AP reports, Latest: 500,000 people in Oregon forced to flee wildfires:

5:25 p.m.

SALEM, Ore. — Authorities in Oregon now say more than 500,000 people statewide have been forced to evacuate because of wildfires.

The latest figures from Thursday evening come from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. That’s over 10% of the state’s 4.2 million population.

More than 1,400 square miles (3,625 square kilometers) have burned this week in the state. Authorities say the wildfire activity was particularly acute Thursday afternoon in northwestern Oregon as hot, windy conditions continued.

At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Kate Brown said there have been fatalities but the exact number is not yet known. There have been at least three reported fire deaths in the state.

Oregon also faces its own prison issues Again as per AP:


5 p.m.

WILSONVILLE, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Corrections says it is evacuating a prison out of an abundance of caution as two large wildfires in the area appear to be merging.

Authorities said Thursday afternoon they evacuated more than 1,300 adults in custody at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, which houses mostly women.

Officials say those evacuated are being relocated and not released.

Wilsonville is about 16 miles (26 kilometers) south of Portland.

And Washington state also confronts fire concerns. Again according to AP:


2:20 p.m.

MALDEN, Wash. — Wildfires have scorched nearly 937 square miles (2,426 kilometers) in Washington state this week, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday as he toured the devastated remains of the town of Malden.

“We’ve had this trauma all over Washington,” Inslee said, according to KHQ-TV. “But this is the place where the whole heart of the town was torn out.”

Malden is a farm town set among wheat fields about 35 miles south of Spokane, Washington.

Malden Mayor Chris Ferrell said residents only had minutes to get out of town Monday. No one was killed or seriously injured.

Inslee has declared a state of emergency to free up cash assistance for families in need. More than 80% of the homes in Malden were destroyed by the flames.

Scope of Fire Catastrosphe

The scope of the wildfire catastrophe on the west coast is mind boggling. I confess I can’t get my thinking around it. I’ve lived most of US life on the east coast. But I had spent several years as a ski bum in Whistler, BC. And during those years. in the late 90s and early 2000s. I thought of the Pacific Northwest as a green and verdant land.

Thus. it’s hard to get my mind around the current armageddon conditions.

These no doubt are part of the new global warming reality. Not only a problem for tresidents of the Pacific northwest, but also other parts of the United States, and regions of the rest world that are vulnerable to a warming climate.

I grieve for the residents that have had to flee suddenly for their lives, and are facing the loss of their homes.

NASA Image of Scope of Oregon Wildfires

A larger NASA satellite Image is available if you click on the following link, NASA’s Aqua Satellite Captures Devastating Wildfires in Oregon:

NASA’s Aqua captured this image of a huge number of wildfires that have broken out in Oregon. Some began in August, but the majority started after an unprecedented and historically rare windstorm that  swept through the Cascade foothills in the afternoon of Monday Sep. 7 through the morning of Tuesday Sep. 8.  Wind gusts up to 65 mph were clocked during the event. The timing of the windstorm was unusual because those strong east winds usually occur in in the dead of winter–not in early September.  In addition to the heat, it is another example of the changing weather patterns that are being seen.  Some fires in Oregon were already aflame since they began in mid-August, but the size of the conflagrations was small.  In fact, the Beachie Creek fire on the morning of Sep. 7 was only 469 acres. After the windstorm began the fire grew overnight to over 131,000 acres driven by high winds and extremely dry fuels. Other fires grew as well, and a large number of fires were started on Sep. 8, most likely from flaming debris or perhaps by lightning strikes. Whatever the cause, the winds overnight drove those fires to expand exponentially and quickly as well.

The smoke from fires is seen cascading off the coast into the Pacific Ocean traveling more than 600 miles just in this image. It is striking how thick and concentrated the smoke is in this image, and many cities and towns up and down the entire West Coast are reporting almost “nightlike” conditions and red-orange skies created by particles in the air blocking out all other colors.

Alas, devastating, destructive wildfires seem to be part of the new normal, both on the west coast, and likely elsewhere as well. Recall that unprecedented lightning storms triggered the most recent California fires. This fire scourge it seems will only continue to get worse. Still, some persist in denying the global climate of the planet is changing.

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  1. tegnost

    Currently in the san juans visibility is about 100 yards and it smells like a campfire…there may be some fog effect since it’s the am, we’ll see.

  2. furies

    Arcing power lines started the ones in the Ashland/Talent/Medford area. PG&E in Cali shut power off to selected areas for this windstorm-rather than turning it *all* off like last year. We’ve got Pacific Power up here.

    It seem inevitable this will happen with increasing frequency.

      1. marku52

        Now they are saying 2 sources, one in Ashland undetermined, the one in Phoenix was arson. Some guy with a meth background. Great.

          1. harrybothered

            My mom lives in Talent and the probable cause changes every day. Cigarette butt in Ashland one day, then the possible arson in the newspaper.

            I haven’t heard about Phoenix having a source of it’s own. Phoenix and Talent are close. With the wind blowing in a northerly direction, the fire moving from Talent to Phoenix wouldn’t have taken very long.

  3. ex-PFC Chuck

    A couple of dear friends of ours very close to Medford have been packed & ready to go for about 3 days now. Haven’t heard from them in the last day and a half.

  4. JacobiteInTraining

    Our family farm on the edge of NE Springfield was on the very border of a Level 3 ‘Go NOW!’ evacuation order a couple days ago, but since the winds have died down it is no longer threatened. (but to think of the upriver Marcola and Mohawk Valleys being threatened to begin with, wow.)

    For now…I believe the winds are forecast to stay low…and if not rain, at least cooler temps coming for the next few days/week. That will help greatly. (Mom says possibly even a wind shift to coming out of the west, and thus drive the fire front back upon itself and over already-burned areas)

    I’ve lived in Oregon/Washington/Alaska my whole life, even been a forest firefighter as a college summer job, and although I’ve seen some *really* bad fire years I think what makes this one so crazy is that on Sunday/Monday/Tuesday last – the weather conditions formed in a way that channeled very fast winds (20, 30, sustained… 50mph gusts or more) out of the East and through & down the McKenzie & Santiam passes, thus driving the fires that hit Blue River, Vida, Mill City, and others at breakneck pace….embers thrown miles away, no way in heck for fire crews to have the remotest chance of scratching out a defensible line….just evacuate, save who you can, and retreat until the weather changes.

    So lightning-caused or human caused fires that had been smoldering for days or weeks in small acreage fires got the hell wind needed to allow them to advance at breathtaking speeds down the valleys and through towns. I’ve never been in such exact conditions before – I may have been in large fire areas, with localized winds…but not the exact combination of sustained blow + dry conditions at same time.

    Welcome yet again to crazy 2020 timeline, eh? :(

    1. Dirk77

      The now 100K+ Holiday Farm fire started with a downed power line from the wind. Oregon IS dry in the summer, like the whole west coast, so conditions now aren’t that unusual. The Santa Ana-like winds, however brief, appear unusual though. If this were SoCal, 1) the power company would have shut off power as soon as any winds kicked up; 2) small fires such as the Beachie Creek one would have been put out quick. Also, Oregon laid off a number of State Park people due to the budget crisis from the pandemic. So lack of experience and bad timing.

      1. Ian Ollmann

        FWIW, the locals roundly condemn PG&E every time the spineless bastards turn off the power. I guess you can’t win. If we suppose that PG&E is leading the way instead of simply an anomaly — this really depends on whether your utility has had a history of maintenance, upkeep and burying power lines in dangerous areas, or taking profits off your risk profile — then I can’t recommend getting a home battery more highly. We would have lost our freezer 3 times over the last year, with 165 total hours of power outage. Many did.

        You can get the home solar tax credit for the battery if it is charged exclusively by solar. When it is not saving you from power outage, you can use it every day to avoid paying for electricity at peak times of day, if your utility has time of use rate charges. Some states also have home battery rebates. Ours was 60% off for rebates, and then pays us back a few bucks more each day on saved energy charges. I personally bought ours when it became evident that PG&E was going to turn off the electricity which I use to pump water and call the fire department on precisely the times when we are most at risk of fire.

        1. Dirk77

          Given PG&E’s track record, they’d shut the power off all the time if they could still charge for service. Regressive taxation, utility deregulation, unchecked immigration – California seems to be an avid user of the neoliberal playbook. If they can, I hope remote users will go solar w battery backup as you suggest.

          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            How many people would have to defect from PG&E to reduce its costs-over-take so badly that it goes into irreversible non-stoppable liquidation? Would non-rich regionalocally-organized people then be able to buy enough of its assets and grid-print in tiny little regionalocal areas so as to be able to set up REA Co-Ops in those tiny-footprint-gridprint areas?

            What if a silent publicity-shunning-movement of people were to begin studying micro-geographically likely and feasible areas for such tiny little self-contained REA Co-Op creation? Could such people find eachother and find out what the very lowest number of people NOT living right NEXT to eachother would have to defect from their little part of the PG&E grid before that whole little gridprint became more cost than it was worth? Those few people would have to live a deeply electricity-deprived life on the way to doing their part to kill PG&E with their one-of-a-thousand little death-cuts. Perhaps their supporters and fellow movement-members could privately fund-raise to buy those bold defectors just enough electro self-generation capacity to survive on.

            1. drumlin woodchuckles

              It occurs to me that the first sentence was unclear. By “costs-over-take”, what I meant to mean is . . . making PG&E spend more money maintaining its fixed costs and assets than what it collects from ratepayers. Making PG&E spend so much more money than it takes in that not even its servant government can fill the entire gap.

  5. Wukchumni

    Drove to Whitney Portal on the other side of the Sierra to fetch a friend’s car we’d left there 3 weeks ago for his planned backpack across the Sierra with his wife west to east via the High Sierra Trail, which got cancelled, and those same winds channeling wildfires into a frenzy can be friendly if you’re on their good side. It was almost crystal clear looking up into the Whitney cirque.

    One of the things oldtimers in the Sierra used to mention was that you could ride through forests (hardly anybody except for John Muir walked in those days) for all those centuries of unchecked wildfires had thinned it out to an extent where they were naturally spaced 10-15 feet apart

    That’s what we should shoot for in making them healthy again, because if we don’t, in many places thick groundcover plants will replace trees in their stead after fire comes calling.

    1. Dirk77

      I just read something similar yesterday and then promptly forgot it. Plus I remember having that view when I lived in LA. An example is Topanga Canyon in LA that burns every few years. I think it’s dawned on most people in LA that fire is just a natural part of that canyon. So if it burns, the locals can fight it if they want, but everyone else, including County firefighters, should just let it burn. Problem solved. And if population growth is driving people into dangerous places, then the nation should act to reduce population growth.

  6. John Wright

    Today’s links has a link to an article “As Fires Rage, California Must Stop Building in Burn Zones City Watch”

    Given that much of California is near a burn zone, following this “stop building” advice is unlikely to occur in the housing developer friendly politics environment of California.

    In my Sonoma County area (about 32mi North of Golden Gate Bridge) the area was a sepia toned landscape yesterday with the sun not visible for much of the day.

    The Sonoma County wildfires are largely contained, but the smoke is coming from other areas.

    It won’t be wise politicians or wise voters that drive the new policies on development.

    It will be insurance companies who refuse to insure against fire loss.

    But one can imagine a new Federal Fire Insurance program, similar to flood insurance, will be instituted with the Real Estate industry’s encouragement.

    I don’t see much of a corrective feedback loop as it is far easier to “kick the can down the road”.

    1. Carolinian

      But one can imagine a new Federal Fire Insurance program, similar to flood insurance, will be instituted with the Real Estate industry’s encouragement.

      But insurance won’t save your life. And if you do manage to flee you still lose irreplaceable things.

      And it could be that the West is simply losing its carrying capacity for ever increasing populations. Much of it is dry and very hot and to find relief retirees and those who don’t mind the isolation turn to higher elevations where the trees are. It’s not just the real estate sharks who are driving this. My friend who lives in Phoenix has avoided the fires this year but there have been a record number of days over 110 so you merely feel like you are in the middle of a fire. The West has always had alternating climate cycles and many pioneers who were drawn by the railroads and others by the promise of one cycle showed up to find the other hot and dry cycle instead. Add in Global Warming and this hot cycle looks to be a doozy.

    2. Anthony G Stegman

      When “Ahnold” was governor of California he proposed a statewide tax to pay for firefighting. This would have been a direct subsidy to those who choose to live in fire prone areas. The tax proposal was short lived due to pushback from those who don’t live in fire prone areas. I am certain the idea will re-surface. After all, we live in a time of cost socialization.

      1. John Wright

        I read that insurance companies pay out $1.10 for every $1.00 they take in fire insurance premiums in the high risk fire regions in Calif.

        The insurance companies are? profitable because the lower fire risk Calif regions subsidize the higher risk regions.

        So California fire insurance cost socialization is happening right now.

        One can wonder if some low risk fire regions will remain viewed as “low risk” in the future.

        1. Janie

          After the Paradise and Santa Rosa fires, insurance rates in those areas went waaaaay up, if the companies were even issuing policies for those areas

    3. rd

      I think insurance companies will insure against fire. However, they will require very strict building codes for rebuilding and maintenance of properties to payout. They will probably offer an “exorbitant” insurance rate for homes that are likely to burn in a wildfire and then offer sequential discounts for significant changes to the designs and maintenance. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing mroe brick and concrete homes. I don’t think the Federal government is going to want to get into wildfire insurance. That is largely just a regional issue, unlike flooding that is in every state.

      After Hurricane Andrew destroyed relatively modern homes, mainly by ripping the roofs off, the insurance and construction industries redesigned roof systems. Florida mandated that insurance companies provide discounts for roof design and construction that met certain standards.

      We got our roof re-shingled recently in NYS and it is the new types of shingles that are much stronger than what was originally put on the house in 1993 based on the improvements made in response to andrew and other hurricanes. They are also supposed to have a much longer lifespan as well.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Brick and concrete. And cut stone. Steel shingle roofs.

        Special super infra-red-reFLECtive shutters OUTside the windows that can be pulled and secured air-tight shut within seconds of receiving the fire-on-the-way warning. I have read that many housefires in these super hot-burning fire areas are started by a huge flash of infra-red radiation hitting the glass window and a combination of going through it so fast and totally, and in some cases just thermally exploding it completely, such that the infra-red flash-zap of heat rays enters the house through the windows and flash-ignites everything it reaches or touches INside the house.

        Super airtight super-reflective anti-infra-red shutters on the outside of each window would prevent that.

    4. SerenityNow

      If California politics were primarily friendly to housing developers you’d think they wouldn’t have such a serious housing crisis. The real friendliness is to the incumbent homeowners, or future homeowners who hire developers to build more low density sprawl. Many of these fires burn homes in places where nothing should have been built. However, decades of exclusionary zoning ensured that nothing more could be built in cities, so out into the open space was the only direction to go.

  7. polecat


    The PNW IS verdant and green most of the year, except when we enter into what is our ‘summer season’, which is mainly found within the months of late July, August, and Sept. .. when we are drier as a general rule, than the SW .. with their seasonal uptake of monsoonal humidity/moisture levels. The fires that occur annually are not due to ‘global warming’ .. but to geography and human intrusion into that ‘mostly verdant’ space everyone loves to live and play in!

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      And I’ve only visited during the verdant and green period. Never during the summer season.

      1. polecat

        It is dry enough that, over eons, the Sequim prairie .. as well as the Gulf Islands, managed to sport a species of dwarf Opuntia – the Brittle Prickly-Pear, first reported in the late 1700’s by Archibald Menzies. Still around in various undeveloped locations.

      2. marku52

        85 days with no rain, and then 45MPH winds to fan the flames. I believe the Alameda fire started at about 11AM. By 5PM it had burned most the way (about 20 miles) to Medford.

        It was moving very fast. My day started completely normally, by 5PM I was packing to leave.

        1. BrianC - PDX

          My Dad spent his career in wildland fire management. The first time he was burned over was in the 1967 Glacier Wall fire in Glacier Park. He drove the Going To the Sun Road to ensure no tourists were camped on the road and watched the fire run down McDonald creek, jump the creek and cross the Sun Road twice in the space of about 20 minutes.

          He was looking out the car window at swirling helical tornadoes of fire going up the Garden Wall. It was lifting burning branches as big around as a mans arm up and over the Continental Divide into the Many Glacier Valley.

          In 1988 (same year Yellowstone burned big time) he was in charge of the Red Bench fire effort for the Nat Park Service for a few hours, until a Project Team came in to take over. While flying over the fire on initial scout he watched it run 10 miles in about 30 minutes. Taking everything in its path. He got out of the plane and called my mother to tell her to pack and leave, because if the wind changed it would be in West Glacier in under an hour.

          The fires in Oregon, fed by the wind, in dry conditions are/were basically unstoppable acts of nature. When the conditions are bad, you just get out of the way as fast as you can.

          One reason, that I’ve never been a fan of “living in the woods”. Been there, done that.

      3. rd

        In the Pacific Northwest, there are specific eco-systems for the arid areas in the rainshadows of the mountain ranges. On Vancouver Island there is a “Garry Oak” ecosystem that historically was subject to wildfires in ther summer and early fall.

        Douglas fires are growing up and displacing it due to the fire suppression. If a wildfire were able to take off in the Douglas firs, it could be a serious conflagration as there would be a lot of good-burning fuel there.

    2. IdahoSpud


      I live in the woods, and this is the time of year I absolutely cringe when I hear a chainsaw or heavy equipment. You can’t count on *everyone* having the foresight to wet the work area down and/or have an extinguisher close at hand.

    3. Michael

      I hate to sound contrary, but climate change has had a huge impact on wildfires. The loss of snowmass on the big peaks combined with increased droughts, and much milder winters have weakened trees, making them more susceptible to things like the pine bark beetle.

      I lived in Oregon for a bit, and thereafter spent many summers there. As early as 1976 and probable early there were winter droughts that were both a blessing and a curse to lifetime locals, who suffered from SAD from rainy days, and from the air pollution caused by wood stoves, and lack of rain that cleared the air.

      In the 90s a local friend pointed out huge swaths of forest in Mt Hood that were dying from the pine bark beetle. Most people at the time didn’t know it was due to milder and drier winters, but as of 2017 there were estimated by the Colorado Fire Service to be more that 800 million dead trees, just in that state due to bugs, disease, warmer winters, and drier conditions.

    4. anon

      I’ve lived, gardened and run municipal construction projects in the PNW for 40 years. The weather, temperature and precipitation have changed considerably to progressively warmer, dryer and unpredictable conditions. It IS global climate change. We are making new heat and low precipitation records annually now.

    1. JohnHerbieHancock

      This was insane to me as well… we may no longer even be able to come together to solve a crisis, or survive a natural disaster, because of it.

      there are some real psychopaths out there, and facebook amplifies their deranged thoughts far beyond what they could otherwise achieve.

      1. Cocomaan

        What’s fortunate is that there are people out there doing their jobs every day regardless. The ones throwing the accusations have revealed themselves as Do Nothing losers who think social media points are more important than humanity.

  8. Tim W

    Not to nitpick with whoever wrote the Salem OR byline at the top. But.
    We are on the outskirts of Portland in the SE quadrant close to where the Riverside fire is impacting the Estacada and Molalla communities. The wind yesterday was non-existant. Flat calm. Smoke to the valley floor all day. We are currently Level 2. If we had been given a Level 3 Go Now order we would ave sat in our vehicle in the street outside for an hour.
    Today is also Flat Calm. We certainly had the wind. Oh yes. Monday to Wednesday. Miserable. Now just waiting for the change to our usual WSW flow and rain Monday or Tuesday. Might even welcome another Easterly blow later in the year when it brings nothing but cold and dry.

  9. howseth

    Covid-19 has taken a back seat here (for me) in Santa Cruz County, California – as a large concern – since August 16 when the lightening struck all over, and the fires began. Fire season has gotten more threatening over the last 10 years – though never have so many been forced to evacuate to this extent before this summer. About 80,000 from a population of 273,000. (though I’m not sure if that also includes San Mateo County) Many returning to rubble. I’m in the Santa Cruz city limits – and my block did not burn down.

    We have only 7 reported deaths due to Covid-19 since last winter in the county (a few of these over age 95). Covid is less threatening than the air quality: which this past month has often been atrocious. I wonder how many of us will develop serious problems due to the fire pollution – those dark orange sky pictures shown on the web lately are not exaggerated. We happened to have an air purifier (bought for asthma and allergies) to turn on, without one well, where would we go?
    Fire Season extends till at least mid October – sometimes November now. The Fire Fighters are tough dudes – much appreciated.

  10. PNWarriorWomyn

    Checking in with you via Tacoma, WA. It’s baaaad. Like a gazillion packs of smokes a day bad. Smoke hangs in the air like fog. Once the winds change it’s going to flow back eastward.

    1. IdahoSpud

      Not really looking forward to that…

      But we are more or less used to it from the frequent annual eastern slope fires over there.

  11. jef

    Central willamette here and it was not all that unexpected. All the tree service cos I deal with have been telling me for several years now that they have all the work they can possibly do 99% of which is taking down all the dead standing fir trees that have been dying throughout the PNW. One guy with a very big company got a contract to take out dead standing along the pole lines through the forest. He said most forest is full of dead standing just waiting for a spark.

    For my part I have really noticed a change in the hydrology. The land dries up much faster, I am using twice as much water to grow the same amount, and areas where I have never had to water are bone dry its a struggle to keep things healthy. The pond is lower than it ever has been and it is no longer receiving the artesian in flow that it usually does year around.

    There are lots of causes of these fires and lots of mechanisms making them worse much of it is AGW related.

    1. Punxsutawney

      As a timber owner, I can tell you that it’s true that trees are dying. I’ve lost in just the last two years probably over 30k worth of cedar (at the mill price). Temps are warmer than historical averages, and Western Oregon is in a three year drought. For my neck of the woods here, this water year will probably be in the top five lowest, maybe top three in the last 100 years. Add in a rare east wind event when trees are fully leaved and it was a recipe for downed power lines and disaster.

      My property had 5 fires within two miles on Tuesday. And two major fires (not fully contained as of now) within ~10 miles. The closest one was put out by farmers, despite the live power lines on the ground. I’m one of the lucky ones here. I know someone who lost everything but their lives and some personal possessions east of Salem.

  12. Leftcoastindie

    We are 500 600 miles away from the big fires up north Here in San Diego county we have the Valley fire about 50 – 60 miles away and it isn’t that big around 17,000 acres and not much damage. During large fires such as the Cedar fire 15 16 years ago it would get smoky like what we see in Northern Cal.
    Even here we are getting the orange tint from the sun. (I was going to include a photo but couldn’t find instructions to do so). Weird.

    1. Leftcoastindie

      (edit) First sentence should be
      We are 500 600 miles away from the big fires in the northern part of the state. Here in San Diego county we have the Valley fire about 50 – 60 miles away and it isn’t that big, around 17,000 acres and not much damage.

    1. Aumua

      Yep sun is not visible even as a disc at 5:00. I seem to be able to detect a slight smell of smoke in the air as well.

  13. Alex Cox

    We live south of Ashland and have been very lucky because the wind is blowing to the north. But two small towns between Ashland and Medford have been devastated – Talent and Phoenix.

    Farmworkers who live in trailer parks were made homeless because the fire was moving too fast for the fire crews. Apparently trailer parks are often left to burn because the structures are so close to each other, and there are lots of propane tanks.

    Of course there are many fires, and much misery due to Covid and all the rest, but if any of the commentariat would like to contribute something, the Rogue Credit Union will match your donation:

    Apparently eight National Guard firefighting Chinook helicopters are unavailable because they have been sent to Afghanistan.

    1. howseth

      Oh yeah, Afghanistan. We’re still there. Today is 9/11 (I was in NY then watching the smoke rise on a beautiful September day)…
      We could use those helicopters and much else right here in the West.

    2. Lightningclap

      Gov Newsom announced before the fires started he obtained one military helicopter in anticipation of the upcoming season. Alex, my Uncle Fred has the stagecoach stop place closer to the interstate. A few times when I was there I’d hoped to cross paths with you!

      Santa Cruz smoke has been intense…I have no difficulty breathing but at times am desperate for some fresh air. This toxic air cannot be good long term.

      1. Alex Cox

        Do you mean the store at the State Line? That used to be a gas and burger place and is now a Liquor Barn? We do our fire training just north of there, at the church in Hilt.

    3. Arizona Slim

      Back in 1992, I spent a couple weeks at the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland. Was getting trained up as a mechanic because I was sick to death with my office job and wanted to do something different.

      Any-hoo, on my mountain bike rides outside town, I rode through a lot of dry grassland. Couldn’t help thinking that, if there was a fire in the area, Ashland would be burnt to a crisp.

      And, about that office job, I quit a couple years later. In 1997, I got a part-time job in a (now defunct) Tucson bike shop. The owner thought that my two weeks in Ashland showed initiative, but there was one way to fix bikes in his shop, and that was Bob’s Way.

      You know what? Nearly 25 years later, Bob’s Way still guides how I work on my own bike.

  14. timbers

    With Oregon’s fire fighting heliocopters unavailable because they’ve been deployed to Afghanistan to help the U.S. military (protect it’s drug traffic?), one would think there might be a campaign add to be had here that could go viral and affect the outcome of elections.

    Unfortunately, both parties are pro war. But I could see Trump using this against Dems, because they did help get that law passed to block him from removing troops from Afghanistan, and he has on occasion called for ending that war.

    Trump could do a bombastic executive order bringing these copters back to Oregon and stick in Dems faces to spite them.

  15. Steviebears

    I live in northwestern Clackamas County. As of now, 1.5 miles away from level 2. While climate change may well have had a hand in creating the weather conditions for the fires to explode, the Riverside fire, closest to the Portland metro, is listed as human caused. We have to add in 100+ years of fire mismanagement by the forest service as one of the contributing factors. My wife and I spend a lot of time in the Clackamas River area hiking, camping, etc and it’s alarming how much dead timber is scattered throughout the forest. I recall reading an article in National Geographic years ago showing how our “put out all fires as fast as possible” policies have created forests ripe for huge, uncontrollable wildfires.

  16. Peter Dorman

    We’re here in smoke-blanketed Portland, having returned here a couple of days ago from what was supposed to be a coastal getaway. We were near Lincoln City when fires flared up in the area around Otis several miles to the west. The smoke was horrible, but the bigger fear was getting trapped. The trip back was spooky, lots of red glow through the murk, mile after mile.

    Breathing this stuff is terrible, and the conditions are forecast to last well into next week.

    It’s true that the winds have died down, and that keeps the fires from spreading so quickly, but they’re still burning where they’ve established themselves.

    Incidentally, social media out here are abuzz with stories about “antifa” arsonists running around setting fires, I suppose because they hate America. I’m waiting for Trump to say something like “TERRIBLE fires, how likely that they were natural?”

    1. Cat Burglar

      I heard the Antifa-Started-The-Fires meme yesterday from a fire water truck driver while we were stopped for road work on Highway 97. I wondered what his source was, and marveled at how fast somebody had been able to disseminate it.

      When Labor Day weekend began, and it was hot and clear and dry with an east wind, I knew we’d be lucky to get out of it without a big fire starting, and we weren’t lucky.

      1. JBird4049

        Oh come on! Antifa is responsible for these blasted fires? Okay, that’s just BS flavored ignorance talking. Unless the recent thunderstorms were caused by them. Next up will be the Proud Boys (whoops, typed too soon. Just checked.) The Proud Boys are being blamed. Next up, those perfidious Iranians)

        Two-thirds of California has a fire dependent ecology. Then there is there is having most of the entire West Coast excepting the Central Valley and much of the South is you know…forest. It’s supposed to burn every decade or so. All this and record heat and a drought while in the fire season.

        The collective intelligence level of Americans is approaching the single digits.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Wouldn’t urban-based antifas stand out in central and eastern countryside Oregon? Or anywhere countryside Oregon? Wouldn’t any stranger be remembered and wondered at?

          These “antifa diddit” accusations are insincere fake accusations. A reasonable response might be . . . Antifa? Around here? Where anyone would spot a stranger? It was probably local stormtrumpers who diddit in hopes that antifa would get the blame.”

  17. Sthub

    NE Portland, sky is sallow, jaundiced and surreal. Everyone in my household has a headache, elderly and asthmatic having breathing difficulties.

    Glad wind has stopped and it is dead calm. A little rain and this could end.

    1. Lost in OR

      I’ve been expecting an event like since I moved to Oregon 20+ years ago. First, the hillsides are monoculture in fir trees. There is the ever-present threat of one beetle or another weakening or killing huge swaths of trees. Then, every year we anxiously watch the snow pack in late winter / spring. Several years ago there were a series of dry winters and below average snow packs. The consequent fires in southern OR and the Siuslaw National Forest were huge. They just didn’t hit high-population areas.

      The irony is that this was a cold, wet, and late spring. It lasted to at least mid June. This is the first year I was able to go primitive camping (with campfires) over the 4th of July. There is usually a fire ban by July.

      For historical context, in 1933, the Tillamook Burn covered 350,000 acres. I suspect half of the valley’s houses are built from lumber that came from that fire.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Isn’t it global warming which is lately weakening the trees enough for bark beetles to mass infest them?

        I remember reading that until semi-recently, every winter had a long enough cold enough deep freeze to kill most overwintering beetles. With the warmup-driven end of winter deep-freezes cold enough to kill most overwintering beetles, the mass-quantities of surviving beetles are sufficient to mass-kill trees, especially trees mass-weakened by water shortage, etc.

        But I don’t live there. This is just something I read.

  18. JWP

    Riverside and Beechie creek fires are going to merge, giving a 400,000 acre plus blaze. Hard to see one small rain event putting a stop to this. Our house smells like a campfire as the old wooden homes in the city cannot keep the smoke out. Lots of uninformed folks exercising and recreating with masks on expecting to be protected.

  19. Lost in OR

    I’ve been expecting an event like this since I moved to Oregon 20+ years ago. The hillsides are monocultured in fir trees. There is the ever-present threat of one beetle or another weakening or killing huge swaths of trees. Every spring we anxiously watch the snow pack for fear of another drought year. Several years ago there were a series of dry winters and below average snow packs. The consequent fires in southern OR and the Siuslaw National Forest were huge. They just didn’t hit high-population areas.

    The irony is that this was a cold, wet, and late spring. It lasted to at least mid June. This is the first year I was able to go primitive camping (with campfires) over the 4th of July. There is usually a fire restriction by July.

    For historical context, in 1933, the Tillamook Burn covered 350,000 acres. I suspect half of the valley’s houses are built from the beautiful, tight-grain lumber from that fire.

  20. Will S.

    Here in Portland, there has been a run on HEPA filters and air purifiers in general and my wife and I were unable to get hold of one, but a friend of mine showed me this video from the state of WA on how to convert a 20″ box fan into a jurry-rigged air purifier:

    Most people in the PNW have probably already seen this video, but it might be a help to some out there. I’m shocked by how well the contraption works; with my lingering COVID symptoms the smoke was really doing a number on my throat & lungs, likewise for my asthmatic wife, but after leaving the fan on overnight all remaining smoke scents are gone from our apartment.

  21. Laughingsong

    In Eugene, I work for the county’s IT and phones department so I have been supporting the emergency ops. Yesterday we were planning how to evacuate a clinic that is also the location of our main health line call center so my piece was figuring out how to move them to a PC classroom in the main public service building. Another emergency call centers was set up in some conference rooms.

    This year and especially last week seemed like there was a confluence of events that led to this:

    Dry mild winter
    Longer-than-usual string of hot (+90) days leading up to….
    The wind event: hot, strong, and very dry winds from the east (Not unusual for CA but not here).

    I am kind of a weather nerd, and I have NEVER seen humidity that low in the Willamette Valley.

    And then the wind just died and left all of this air-poop and ash everywhere. But that’s fortunate for the firefighters so I try to keep that thought front and center.

    My first husband and I had a beautiful home on an acre up the McKenzie in the 90s , just above Leaburg Lake…. I often thought that if it went on sale again I would be very tempting to buy it. Not certain but from the maps and hone videos, it looks like it’s gone now. :-(

  22. Cat Burglar

    Out in Central Oregon, looking out the window at the John Day River Basin, you could see the wind had changed. The east winds that drove the fires on the Cascade west slopes had turned west, and the smoke was back. Not like the suffusing fog a few days ago, but a smoke stratum that cut off the tops of the mountains and blocked the sun, and you could see it lowering. Outside, you could feel a chill in the air — there was no warmth from the sunlight. Now the house is wrapped in smoke.

    You can’t work outside in the smoke, and on days clear enough to work, the fire hazard is so high you can’t use a vehicle on the dirt roads. If a fire began, you might get help from other ranchers in the local Rangeland Fire Protection Association, and our own shovels and water truck, but the heavyweights, BLM and interagency fire
    fighters, are all spoken for. There is no fire right here now, not yet, not like other years, but there is no protection this time.

    There is nowhere to go. Two weeks ago, on a trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness, a friend and I had to give up our hike: it was too smoky to breathe. A friend from Santa Cruz California fled to the Sierra for a little relief from the fires surrounding her city, and ended up being evacuated when the Creek Fire began. A ranger I know sent me a video shot by a Collier State Park Ranger friend from a fire truck driving at night through smoke with fire on both sides of the road as they went back to rescue the Park’s historical archives. My grandfather’s old place on the White River burned up ten days ago. If 10% of Oregon’s population is evacuated from their homes now, what happens if half of them have no homes to return to? A social crisis is on the horizon behind the flames.

    Is this the beginning of state failure? Firefighters and citizens are responding with everything they have, against huge forces, but it is not enough. Optimization has left society without the capacity to produce and organize an effort against fires and Covid.

      1. Cat Burglar

        Those diverted helicopters are the poster children for the diversion of resources to elite projects away from the public good.

        Here are my talking points —

        We have an expensive belt-and-suspenders setup with an expensive Department of Defense and Department Of Homeland Security that were shoved to the fore when 2977 people died on 9/11. When 10 percent of the population of Oregon are evacuated, or 200,000 die of Covid, shouldn’t the response be proportional? Why aren’t we being defended and our lives and homes being secured? Where’s the money?

        I find these points to be effective.

    1. Steviebears

      That 10% figure includes levels 1 and 2. Only 40,000 Oregonians are under level 3 (evacuate now!) Order. But point taken on looming state failure. Especially with Congress (Republicans) fighting any relief related to Covid.

      1. Jessica

        Thank you for that explanation. I was trying to figure out where the 500,000 were evacuating from because the locations mentioned as evacuating were small towns.

  23. Sailor Bud

    Right on the coast in Aberdeen, WA. So far, just gray-peach skies and an unusually orange sun yesterday, and I could look directly at it without discomfort. No smoke smell, but the prevailing wind here pushes east, from the ocean. Spooky.

      1. howseth

        Those smoke sensors on the Fire and Smoke Map are from PurpleAir – you can also just go directly to PurpleAir. Seems a bit quicker.

  24. Waking Up

    Just a thought…instead of investing in F-35’s for war, how about investing that money into aerial firefighters. Climate change dictates that fires on the west coast of the U.S. will only get worse in the coming years.

  25. michael99

    In Sacramento the AQI is currently red, the primary pollutant being PM 2.5 from wildfire smoke. The air quality here in summer can be pretty bad even without fires due to ozone levels, but not this bad for this long.

    Earlier this week it was better because the smoke had risen well above ground level, but yesterday it descended again. Today there’s a very strong odor of smoke, visible smoke/haze just looking across the street, and a smoky gray sky.

    Looking at the interactive map as of 4:00 PM PDT, most of California north of Fresno is either red, purple or maroon AQI (unhealthy to hazardous). Western to Central Oregon is even worse with large areas of purple/maroon. The western part of Washington is also red or worse.

    Sacramento County hasn’t had major fires but the air quality has been poor for about a month since lightning started a bunch of fires in NorCal in mid-August. Three of the last four years – this year, 2018 with the Camp Fire, and 2017 with the North Bay/Wine Country fires – vast areas of the state have had multi-week stretches of unhealthy to hazardous air quality due to wildfire smoke.

    Poor air quality pales in comparison to the horrors and devastation of the fires themselves. My sympathies to all who have known these, or who are living with the imminent threat of fire and the possible need to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

    Take care everyone.

    1. wilroncanada

      Same on lower Vancouver Island and the BC lower mainland. AQ index above 10, the highest reading. In other words, stay indoors. Supposed to last through the weekend.

  26. VietnamVet

    A PNW Ex-Pat, in my 77 years, nothing like this has happened before. There was the Big Burn in the Bitterroots Mountains that my Grandfather survived with the clothes on his back. The January 26, 1700 Tsunami, Earthquakes, Mount St. Helens, and Blazing Infernos; this is living life on the edge. A simple fact of life as shown in the triple catastrophes of fire, pestilence and a 100 days of riots is that the current “me only” generation of grab the money and run does not work. To live on the West Coast, cooperation and preparation are a necessity. A working government is necessary for life. If the Eastern Elite continue not to grasp this, a new nation of Cascadia is a certainty.

  27. Brian in Seattle

    I feel like in a sane world the US Government or a coalition of western state governments would get together and start some sort of taxpayer subsidy to utility companies to start under grounding distribution and transmission lines over a 20-50 year period, especially considering if this is going to be the climate norm going forward. This would at least start reducing the chances of errant branches catching fire on power lines, falling into brush, and starting an inferno during high wind events.

    On a historical note – the Tillamook burn wiki page mentions the exact same weather scenario that happened this week of gale force winds from the east and humidity dropping, also happened in 1933 :

    “From August 14 at 1 p.m. until the early morning of August 24 the fire had burned about 63 square miles (160 km2) and it appeared that it might be brought under control soon. Thus, for over 10 days it had burned at an average rate of about 6 square miles (16 km2) a day. On August 24, the humidity dropped rapidly to 26 percent and hot gale force winds from the east sprang up. During the next 20 hours of August 24 and 25 the fire burned over an additional 420 square miles (1,100 km2), or at a rate of 21 square miles (54 km2) per hour along a 15-mile (24 km) front. The fire was stopped only by the fact that the wind ceased and a thick, wet blanket of fog drifted in from the ocean.[2]”An oppressive, acrid smoke filled the neighboring valleys; ashes, and cinders, and the charred needles of trees fell in the streets of Tillamook; and debris from the fire reached ships 500 miles (800 km) at sea

    1. John Wright

      Undergrounding power lines might remove some of the risk, but the tinder dry nature of much of the west makes large fires likely from a variety of sources other than power lines.

      For example, the Redding CA Carr fire (August 2018) “was started when a flat tire on a vehicle caused the wheel’s rim to scrape against the asphalt, creating sparks that set off the fire.”


      For an historical reference, here is a description of the aftermath of a previous Santa Barbara, CA fire.

      ” The town is certainly finely situated, with a bay in front, and an amphitheatre of hills behind. The only thing which diminishes its beauty is, that the hills have no large trees upon them, they having been all burnt by a great fire which swept them off about a dozen years before, and they had not yet grown up again. The fire was described to me by an inhabitant, as having been a very terrible and magnificent sight. The air of the whole valley was so heated that the people were obliged to leave the town and take up their quarters for several days upon the beach.”

      This is from Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast” published in 1840, but written over the 1834 to 1836 period.

  28. michael99

    We need a program like the Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal era. There is much work that could be done to mitigate (at least partially) the growing fire and other risks in this era of global warming, and it would put a lot of people to work. Conservation and renewal of land and infrastructure should be major themes in the American national agenda.

    According to a reference in the Wikipedia article, the CCC was the most popular program of the New Deal with the American public. These days our rulers almost seem to purposely avoid instituting any programs that might unify the public, arouse true patriotism and remind everyone that this land is their land.

  29. howseth

    Yes to a program like a ‘Civilian Conservation Corps’. We got rid of the draft 2 generations ago. We could institute a National Optional Jobs program – like the CCC – or even the military (for that matter).

    This fragmented nation is unraveling. Where is the shared purpose, besides rooting for one’s team – be it sports or political tribe?

  30. drumlin woodchuckles

    Non-Westerners don’t habitually think of Oregon as being a dessicated tinder-pile, so it is understandable that a non-Westerner would not be prepared for the spectacle of Oregon Burning.

    So non-Westerners need to update their image of Oregon to match the new prevailing conditions. And maybe so should some shocked and disbelieving Oregonians.

    And then think about how to perform a checkerboard patchwork of controlled burns as fast as possible over the whole state, consistent with non-runaway fire-safety.

    And lenders should start refusing to lend to or on houses with any speck of flammable material anywhere on or in their structure. And insurers should stop insuring such houses. That would create a savage Darwinian market force-field to encourage the building of firePROOF houses.

  31. willfulknowledge

    “These no doubt are part of the new global warming reality. ” There’s plenty of doubt. Drought is a chronic condition of the West, from SoCal to inland BC. It looks green but cycles through wet and dry and is far more effected by ocean weather patterns than the East Coast. Add a far large population than in my youth, a cessation of forest management since the ’80s and you have a prescription for disaster.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      And add ManMade global warming on top of that all and you will have disaster to the disasterth power.

  32. Tom Bradford

    I thank God daily I’m not in the US but if something like this hit locally we’d be on our 10-acres with two of us, three dogs, two cats, two horses, a goat, a house-cow and her 10-month-old calf, six heavily-pregnant sheep and a dozen chooks. We, the dogs, hopefully the cats if they’re around, and the horses we could get out by car and float but the rest would be on their own – and Chloe the cow needs hand-milking daily as we weaned the calf months ago.

    I’m sure there must be many in the US facing this horror for real.

  33. Dave_in_Austin

    I’m sorry to have to say this but the whole “500,000 evacuated” is hype, just another press attempt to whip up hysteria. Go to the Portland Orogonian website and pull down the link to the state office handling the evacuations.

    They are being very professional. There are three levels of notification : Level 1- be ready (pack some clothing, gas up the car and monitor the situation); Level 2- get set (there is the possibility will need to evacuate at short notice so keep your radio tuned and if your level 2 area gets the word follow the marked evacuation routes right now); and Level 3 (your area is under an evacuation order- you face critical danger and should have already evacuated. Leave immediately.).

    So far roughly 40,000 – 50,000 people have been ordered from their homes, mostly in the back country. Another 450,000, mostly in the suburbs of the large cities are at stage 1 or 2- if the winds whip up and they get another night of 40 mph winds and cinders flying 3-5 miles they may need to leave- but let me emphasize- they have not evacuated.

    The equivalent on the east coast would be the “a hurricane will hit somewhere on this 200 miles of coast in 48 hours so we are posting warnings and suggesting that people living on barrier islands with only one exit may want to consider leaving for the weekend”. The papers would not have headlines saying “500,000 under evacuation orders in Carolina.

    Again, this is just like the hype we get from the local TV weather reports. The fires are serious, maybe even unprecedented, but 500,000 people- 10% of Oregon’s population- have not left their homes.

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