Wildfires in Oregon

Wildfire in the Pacific Northwest by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington  is licensed under CC By 2.0

Wildfire in the Pacific Northwest by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington is licensed under CC By 2.0

Olivia Kinney, Staff Writer, Lead Editor

Catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have set fire upon more than one million acres of land, killing about eight people and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes.

“People did die in the fires. A 12 year old boy was found dead with his dog in his lap,” Oregon resident, Casey Sundermann said. “Many houses were burned, though not right in Portland, more in the rural forested areas right around our town.”

Due to the Labor Day windstorms, falling trees knocked down power lines around the Santiam Canyon area and initiated the fires. Uncontrollable wind traveled at 25-50 miles per hour, forming fires to spread more quickly.

People fled to emergency shelters while animals were housed at county fairgrounds. “The state is providing emergency assistance to people who were burned out and FEMA is assessing who needs help, who needs to be housed for a longer period while they rebuild etc,” Sundermann said. 

For obvious reasons, use of fires and grills remain suspended as conditions become dry as well as parks and other outdoor areas. 

Sundermann explains how the evacuation zones are set up. “GO NOW means that fires are close and out of control. People in those areas need to get out.  BE READY at a moment’s notice means that the fire is expected to spread in your direction and you should pack emergency items in case you are ordered to leave,” Sundermann said. 

The least serious evacuation zone means one should start planning what to do if the fires spread in their direction.

“It is scary being in an area that is prone to wildfires.  We usually have fires late each summer, early autumn when everything is hot and dry.  In Oregon we get a summer ‘drought.’  Our weather pattern is rainy all winter, but then in early summer the rain stops and we don’t get more rain until autumn. So dry conditions in the forest are fairly normal.  What is not normal, of course, is that it is hotter/drier than it used to be,” Sundermann said.

Wildfires have increased at an excessive rate over the past few years. Although fighting them is dangerous and costly, public safety matters most and holds top priority. 

“Portland itself did not have fire, but we had smoke.  Our air quality was in the 500’s which is just off the chart,” Sundermann stated. 

As a result of the smoke, Sundermann found it hard to breathe even in her own home.  “We had to close all the doors and windows, put towels under the doors to keep out smoke.”

Nick Coplin, an Oregon resident helps to stop these fires. “Oh it’s terrible, you get a lot of smoke, we’ve only had probably three to four days at the most clear breathable air,” Coplin said.

Oregon Guardsman support wildfires firefighting efforts by Oregon National Guard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wildfires can be caused by nature, often by lightning during thunderstorms. Though, most wildfires are started by people. 

“We had a huge fire two years ago in the Columbia River Gorge, a National scenic area.  That fire was caused by teenagers with firecrackers,” Sundermann said. “More recently the fires have been caused by downed power lines that spark.”

Climate change brings upon many consequences, as for example, drought. Many believe drought was a main factor in the fires. When the fires reached Oregon more than a quarter of the state experienced extreme drought.

“Climate change is very real and it frustrates me so much when people try to say it’s not,” junior Sydney Chrome states. “I just really hope the fires serve as a wake up call to everyone that a) forest fires are getting increasingly worse (especially on the west coast), and b) as a country we’re not prepared to act on it in an effective and timely way.”

“I do believe that this is climate change in action.  We have always had some forest fires, but not as huge, not as ferocious as they are now,” Sundermann added.