The smoke that hung over western Oregon last week was just a small taste of what residents of eastern Oregon and central Washington have been living with for weeks now.
The Grant County fires near John Day and Prairie City have destroyed more than 30 homes and many other structures such as barns. The fires in the north central Washington includes the Omak fire, now the largest wildfire to ever hit that state. Tragically, three firefighters near Lake Chelan lost their lives when their vehicle went over an embankment in an effort to escape flames that suddenly surrounded them.
Wildfires are unpredictable, never more so as when weather conditions whip flames into all directions. Gusty winds and high temperatures have fueled some fires to greatly increase in size. Fire fighting resources have been stretched to the limit. Oregon National Guard personnel joined the fire fighting effort after getting trained for the hard work. Crews from as far away as Australia and New Zealand are joining the hundreds of men and women who have been on the front lines for weeks.
Those in the John Day area who escaped the flames with little more than the clothes on their back discovered their homes had burnt to the ground. The people who live in rural areas look out for each other. The relief effort to house and feed those who lost everything is an exercise in selflessness and community spirit. Friends opened their homes to strangers, the business community rallied to donate food and other necessities.
By nature of the area, there are a lot of animals, domestic and farm. Horses and other ranch animals were un-paddocked and allowed to flee the flames. Those who could grab their dogs and cats were met by volunteers in town who offered pet food, crates and kennels and toys. The wildfires can’t be any less stressful for the animals than the humans.
There are raw opinions about the response of the Forest Service and others to the fires when they were still supposedly containable. But as an editorial in Blue Mountain Eagle said, the time for fingerpointing and blame is far off in the future. The only thing to concentrate on when fires are decimating the forests and ranchlands of the west is for the safety of the residenrts and the firefighters.
Each year brings bigger and bigger wildfires. Some blame it on poor forest management, others blame it on climate change and El Nino that brings drought to an already-dry region.
Fires caused by lightening is one way nature clears out forests and rangeland. But with more people living out in the wilds we should build and live responsibly where such disasters are becoming the norm.