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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.