Forest Fires

The new normal: fire everywhere in the Northwest

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

This week, the majestic Columbia River Gorge experienced an unprecedented fire that spread to more than 40,000 acres in less than five days. Residents and experts in this region were stunned by the still-unfolding disaster in what should be a fire resistant and lush region.

The blaze was reportedly intentionally ignited by some teens on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, when temperatures were in the upper 90s. The group reportedly threw fireworks into the Eagle River Trail area, setting off a blaze that literally exploded in 48 hours, moving more than 13 miles and shutting down Interstate 84, a major transportation corridor, and threatening the primary drinking water source (Bull Run Reservoir) for more than 1 million people in the Portland area.

The blaze is one of many in the region. Nearly 170,000 acres are ablaze at the Chetco Bar Fire, near Brookings, Oregon. Fires have scorched more than a million acres in Montana. Many experts are pointing to climate change and drying conditions as the main driver for the now frightening new normal.

I have not had a chance to observe the wrath of the fire near my Portland home, because it is still an active conflagration, and the firefighters need to keep gawkers out. I will go in once it is safe.

In light of what has happened this summer, I decide to dig up some pictures I took of the devastating Carlton Complex Firs in the Methow Valley area, in Washington state, in 2014. Seeing what fire can do to communities and landscapes is a sobering experience. I expect the worse is still yet to come, if that is even possible.

 

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The fury of fire

Following the hottest July ever in human recorded history on planet earth, the American west is having the greatest outbreak of wildfires since the great fires of 1910, which ravaged Montana, Idaho, and Washington state.

Fires are burning widely across my home state of Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia, and Alaska. Three firefighters were killed on Aug. 19, fighting a blaze in the Methow Valley near Twisp–an area hammered by wildfires in 2014. There is major change taking place. This will involve how we plan for fire, build in fire zones, speculate for fast profits in pretty Western scenery (if you can afford that game), and consider what is safe.

Maybe the lessons will be forgotten. People, particularly wealthy people, will still want to live near the mountains and wild places where fires naturally occur, but with global warming patterns due to climate change, the ecosystem will be transformed more and more by big burns. We as a country cannot afford to purely protect all of the property here, particularly when the sacrifice is lost firefighters’ lives. Will it one day be left just to burn?

I took this picture about a week after fires ravaged the town of Pateros, in central Washington, again at the center of Washington’s complex of fires.

(Click on the picture to see a larger photograph on a separate picture page.)