Current humidity is 10%, and the forecast is for 100-degree heat and “historically high winds.”* Today dawned red; the red turned to gray; and ash is falling like snowflakes. Even indoor air is smoky, nauseating, and congesting, and twilight lingers all day. Outside air has gone from “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy” to “hazardous.” Our shrubs, patio, and walkways lie beneath a thick layer of ash. Many rural areas have lost power, and five towns have burned to the ground.
When Peggy and I moved to Oregon in 1986, mountain real estate was in high demand, but now that global warming has melted glaciers and ever-worsening fires have turned rural idylls into death traps (Trump claims that the fire problem is caused by Democrats), the cautious have grown even more cautious. I live in the heart of a metro area of 300,000, so if I die in a natural disaster, it is unlikely to be a forest fire but rather the +9 Great Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. These quakes hit an average of every 246-years, the last one occurring 320-years ago at 9:00 p.m. on January 26, 1700 (the time and date have been determined from Japanese records of when the resultant tsunami hit Japan). Had the threat posed by the Cascadia Subduction Zone been known when Peggy and I moved to Oregon in 1986, we would have gone elsewhere.
There have been numerous small quakes during our time here (one of which caused extensive damage to the state capitol), but they were along local faults while the Cascadia fault extends from California, through Oregon, through Washington, and through British Columbia before finally ending in Alaska. It is expected that Coastal communities will be completely flattened by the quake before being washed out to sea seven minutes later. Because the Coast is squeezed between mountains and ocean, few roads run east so there will be little chance of escape. Being sixty miles inland and 200-400 feet above sea level, the Willamette Valley won’t be swept out to sea, but setting atop hundreds of feet of Ice Age rubble will still mean major disaster, but back to fire-related news....
Peggy has a friend named Sandy who lives twenty miles from town and next door to the Willamette National Forest. A woman of more than average means, Sandy has spent forty-five years of her life and an enormous amount of money in building a world-class clothing button collection. The closer the fires get, the more Sandy worries, but because her husband pooh-poohs her worry, no steps are being taken to move their belongings to safety. Yesterday, the fire department toured Sandy’s property in preparation for using it as a staging area.
Throughout the day, TV programs are being interrupted by fire-related news, and evacuation orders are constantly scrolling across the bottom of the screen. The smoke is so thick that flame retardant can’t be dropped from planes or helicopters, and five towns have thus far burned to the ground. All the firefighters in the world couldn’t slow a fire that is moving too fast to approach. Peggy heard on the news that the nearest fire jumped thirteen miles in one night, but I can’t imagine that it’s true.
Volcanoes. Oregon has four volcanoes that the USGS characterize as “very high risk.” The one nearest Eugene is the 10,358-foot South Sister, which, despite being seventy miles away, can be seen from town. The South Sister has a bulge that has grown nine inches since its discovery in 1997. Because the prevailing winds blow away from Eugene, the worst likely danger would come from watershed destruction, Eugene’s water coming from the McKenzie River, which originates near the South Sister. (Because the McKenzie flows through the worst of the fires, Eugene's water tastes bad).
Landslides. These are only a problem in the wet season and usually along the Coast, where they sometimes close the only north-south highway (US 101, aka El Camino Real) for months, it being too dangerous to move a landslide that won’t stop sliding. Obviously, people occasionally die, and the only way out is sometimes by helicopter.
Friday Afternoon Fire Update. Another filthy day of coughing, nausea and daylong twilight, but, unless The Big One hits, we probably won’t end the day homeless in a school parking lot. By noon on Monday, the winds are expected to shift.
Friday Night Fire Update: 40% of Oregonians have been told to prepare for evacuation, and another 10% have already evacuated.
* Since I started writing this three days ago, the winds have dissipated, and the daytime highs have dropped by 25-degrees (the area being prone to temperature fluctuations), but the fires just keep getting bigger and more numerous. In California, things are even worse, but things are too bad here for me to worry much about how things are down there.
** Friday Night Fire Update: 40% of Oregonians have been told to prepare for evacuation, and another 10% have already evacuated. s a link to local fire news and photos: https://www.registerguard.com/story/news/2020/09/10/holiday-farm-fire-frequently-asked-questions/5767238002/