Breathing smoke for a week

The view across my deck shows smoke filtering down to the ground.

Wildfires are raging across my state of Oregon, as I’m sure you’ve heard in the news. People have died, homes burned to the ground, and thousands of people evacuated. Friends of mine have been ordered to evacuate their homes, and more have just left to try to find clear air to breathe. California is getting hammered for the third year in a row with wildfires in the same regions. I can’t imagine what kinds of trauma that leaves with a person. According to USA Today, 6.7 million acres of fires have burned in the Western US this year. For comparison, the city of Manhattan takes up about 14.7 thousand acres.

The NOAA satellite image I saw Tuesday morning, September 8. I marked my home with an X. What you see is the state of Oregon outlined, a little bit of southern Washington, and the left side of the image is the Pacific Ocean. This would ordinarily be a blue sky day across the entire region. Instead, there are many fires burning, and wind blowing the smoke westward to the ocean.

I remember complaining about what a bad year 2016 was. And then I complained about 2019. This year…I can’t even muster the effort to complain. I’m still just trying to absorb and process.

I began smelling smoke Monday night, the 7th. It came in thick and fast and I thought for sure something in my neighborhood was burning down. I barely slept that night, waking over and over to look out the windows for the telltale flickering of flame light that I expected to see. In the morning the smoke was just as thick. I checked all the news outlets and saw nothing. Finally I thought to look at the weather satellites. The image above is what I saw. There was a thick plume of smoke snaking directly over my town. I finally realized it was wildfires.

Looking at the satellite map I realized half the state was also suffering, and that some of the fires were huge. The situation was the same in California.

My friend Frank on August 13th. We were at the VA Hospital for a checkup. I can see across the valley and the city of Portland, and if I look closely I can see Mt. Hood in the distance.

On Thursday I drove into Portland to pick up my Cherokee friend, Frank. He recently had eye surgery and it was time for a checkup. I had been with him at his checkup in August, and it was such a great view as we headed for the elevators, past the huge windows on the 8th floor of the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital, I had to take a shot. That’s the image you see above. We went to the same 8th floor eye clinic on September 10th, and as Frank was shuttled from one room to the next, being checked over rather thoroughly, I kept leaving the waiting room to go look at the sky. Each time I looked out, the smoke was thicker. By the time we left for the elevators, three hours later, I couldn’t even see across the Willamette River. Compare the views below to the view above.

I began receiving these alerts on my phone, while waiting for Frank. Time to evacuate! City after city popped up on my screen. It was scary.

Portland’s air quality is currently the worst in the entire world, and significantly so. Air Quality Advisories from the National Weather Service are in effect for a few more days.

Saturday I needed to make a trip out to Lyle to bring supplies to the Yakama fishermen my group has been working with. I was messaging my brother, who lives in Seattle and was beginning to experience the same thing. Winds had carried smoke from CA and OR up into Washington, then circled it around over Idaho, and on to Montana. I told him I was looking forward to going far to the East, expecting to have less smoke there to deal with. I could not have been more wrong.

I spent over three hours at Lyle, helping where I could, and then it was time to go. The air was remarkably awful the whole time. While there, a barge load came through, frequently blasting its horn for safety reasons, to warn other boats. It’s salmon season again and there are a lot of small boats on the river. The people who live there told me they almost never hear the horns. The powerful blast echoed through the dense smoke and felt like it was all around us. KumKum (means fish head in Yakama – ha ha!), the dog, got up from his nap and looked around nervously. I was glad for my mask: not for COVID anymore, but for the smoke. The entire trip home was this bad.

KumKum asks us, “Do you mind telling me what is going on?”

Yesterday, I had to run more errands for the GoFundMe project. This time I only had to cross the bridge to Longview, right across the river from where I live. Approaching the bridge, I looked out ahead and could see street lights and the mountain behind them. My first thought was, “Yay, the skies are better today!” This is the scene that made me so happy:

“Yay! The skies are better!” No, wait, this is still bad.

I was back and forth between towns and around town yesterday, getting everything taken care of. My task was gathering a huge pile of gift cards, then express mailing them to the Warm Springs reservation where the WORST of the fires are right now. The people who live there were already in such dire need they are half the reason we set up our entire donation program in the first place, and now look. Can you believe this? On top of everything else they have been dealing with this year? We’ve been organizing a second shipment of camping equipment to go to them, hopefully by the end of this week.

Anyway. The skies are surreal, and I’ve had over a week now to get used to it. I’m not getting used to it. The videos below are my very last trip home across the bridge. Ugh. It’s so nasty out there.

This was shot September 14, leaving Longview, WA and getting ready to cross the bridge to OR.
This is leaving the bridge and heading for the Oregon side of the Columbia River, and my town of Rainier.

23 thoughts on “Breathing smoke for a week

  1. An all too familiar sight, Crystal. I can smell it just by looking at it. Peggy and I said enough is enough yesterday and headed over to Florence. So what that we are wearing masks to avoid Covid, we are breathing clean air! We will return home on Friday where there is a small chance that rain will have an impact. But the smoke is predicted to be back by next week. Things could be ever so worse, however. We still have our home. And we thought it was scary as we did our 8,000 mile trip around the US. Ha! Take care and be safe! –Curt

    1. Oh my goodness, Curt, I’m sorry to hear how it’s impacting you two. I’m relieved the air is clear in Florence. I didn’t realize there was anywhere to go to get away from it, except maybe Wyoming. It was a good health decision to go to the coast, even if, like you said, you’re stuck wearing masks all the time. Rainier had some rain the night before last, but it was only a gentle wetting, and made zero difference in the amount of smoke yesterday. That was really disappointing for me. You are right: we have our homes! And that is more than many can say, which is heartbreaking. I hope you remain safe there, and that your home and the homes of the people you care about are not in danger.

  2. I hope relief comes soon in the form of rain you mentioned. My cousin is a pilot who only helps with fires now. He is out in that area dropping water as we speak. Stay safe,

    1. Thank you Sandra! The rain didn’t have any visible impact, but I am certain that the increased humidity helps the firefighters to some degree. This awful stagnant air that doesn’t move at all is frustrating because it doesn’t blow the smoke away…BUT! it has been very helpful for firefighters to try to make an impact on the fires. Winds make it much harder for them. I am so grateful to your cousin and to everyone else fighting fires. I just heard a news story that the California prison inmates that help to fight fires will now be allowed to use their experience to continue to fight fires when their terms are up. I am sure we will need all the help we can get in years to come.

    1. I understand about the likes! I have that same dilemma when the post is bad news. I am glad you are no longer in danger of wildfire. I’m so close to the wet coast that my home is safer than many are. I guess that’s another reason to be grateful for all the rain I get here.

    1. I’m glad I posted, then. I don’t want to worry you. I’m here, gettin’ along as usual. There has been so much heavy stuff happening in my world in the past few months. I’m beginning to believe it is a worldwide anxiety in the air, taking its toll on everyone even when we don’t realize it. There are still some huge gestures of creativity and love and generosity happening all around, so I think we humans are a pretty remarkable bunch of critters. ❤ ❤ ❤

    1. Ditto on those sentiments! I do not want to post about smoke any more! Nor do I want to continue to report how bad things are for American Indian tribes. I’m grateful for your love and appreciate your thanks. I long for less eventful news in the world.

    1. Maybe…I looked up the lyrics. “A cobra on my left, Leopard on my right” and “Must be something else we say, Somehow to defend this place.” Anyway, yeah, so much heartbreak. But! So much love and beauty too. I’ve been enjoying the creatives and what they are doing to forge new paths to audiences and to sacrifice their already impacted income to build events designed to give to others. I think we’re gonna be ok.

      1. The lyrics are fantastic. I remember spending a lot of time when I bought the LP, wiriting down the Lyrics… (Still have the LP) Did you listen to the song?
        I hope we’re gonna be ok. There are some creative people finding new ways.
        War concerns me. You and I served. (I’m not sure I thanked you for your service…) The risks of war are increasing. Mediterranean is a case in point.
        Stay safe Crystal.

      2. Aww, you are kind. Brian thank you for your service too. I agree that risks of war are increasing. I have this theory that it’s due to globalization & technology. We are all much more aware of how close we are to each other and how we impact each other now, than ever before. The world is suddenly this big giant family of step-brothers and -sisters, and it’s hard to adjust to the change, and it wasn’t our idea in the first place to have to get along. Some people can do it with grace, and some can’t. But we are all going through this change exactly in the ways that humans do. So when I tell myself this analogy, I can understand it better, and forgive better. I can’t wait for the far-away future day when we’ve all agreed that, for better or worse, we’re family.

      3. A very good point. Step siblings and in-laws! Factor universal greed into that… Plus the fact that nobody remembers what war is really like…
        And yet, yes, we’re family. Problem is there are bad apples in the family… 😉
        Stay safe.

  3. You got some good photos, Crystal and you are doing good work. You have such a huge heart. I have this smoke down in my chest and keep wondering how to break it loose later when the smoke is gone. Wondering about the residual effects of this on lungs for us and wildlife. I hope it’s under control soon for everyone’s sake.

    1. I am particularly concerned about you because your place is so close to the fires. It has been a very long time to breathe smoke constantly. My eyes burn every day. I’m very glad that you bought an air purifier and I hope it arrives very soon.

    1. I am fortunate, and in my small town we had a huge rainstorm that cleared out the smoke. This is the third day now I’ve been breathing fresh air. The fires down around Ashland, Oregon are contained now, but they did destroy two small towns first, which is awful. Other fires are under better control now too, because of low wind, cooler temperatures, and in some cases, some rain.

      1. I’m so glad to hear that there is a reprieve, Crystal. And so sad that two small towns were destroyed. Fire is such a frightening thing, and I guess one always counts one’s blessings in the face of destruction.

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