Big Fires Everywhere

Ready or not, climate change is right behind you

Oregon has multiple fires across the state, from the mid-coast to Medford and Ashland to Santiam and Clackamas. Popping over to the Oregon Fire dashboard, there are 436 active fires in the state today. Seems like a lot! Pictures from places like Salem, Detroit, and Phoenix (New York State names places after Greek and Roman cities, whereas in Oregon we just double up on existing U.S. names) posted in the past few days feature light that’s filtered like good movies or episodes of CSI: Miami. Everyone, from recent transplants like me to Oregon lifers say the same thing: I’ve never seen it like this before. 

This is not my first wildfire season in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s my first where the fires have been so pervasive. In 2017, the Columbia Gorge was hit by fire started by a teen with fireworks. There were a few days where the sky was hazy and I woke up to find ash on my car. Between the eerie light and the loss of life — entire towns were wiped off the map this week — the current edition feels far more serious. 

The mental and physical component of the wildfires is real. A red or yellow sky is a direct warning to the lizard part of your brain telling you that hey, this ain’t right. I feel logy, I get headaches, my eyes burn. At a time when everyone is already on their last nerve, this is having that nerve plucked like an upright bass, Looney Tunes-style. 

As for the coverage that the fires are or are not getting from the media on the east coast: the Times has like, one reporter for the state of Oregon and Washington. It’s Mike Baker, and he’s great — I have his rookie card where it says FUCK FACE on the underside of his notebook in the photo — but there’s only so many places he can be, especially when there are fires in between those places. In the meantime, check out nytimes.com, there seems to be some articles up right now. 

The audience for the Times is not people affected by fires, unless you count the Enron traders who were super psyched about the fires in California. Of course they’re not covering it the same way that they would cover something happening in New York City. You want Maggie Haberman doing stenography for the fires instead? “Some say the fires are destructive to humans, animals and property. The fires say, not so fast.”   

I was born and raised in the Northeast, so I come to these events with a different lens. We mostly had snowstorms, which, while annoying, have a beginning, middle and end. You stock up on food, you fuel the generator and watch the local news. The fires have the capacity to be far more destructive than the snow, but like everything that makes 2020 so unpleasant, the wildfires don’t have a set end. Even hurricanes and tornadoes are time-limited events—they pass, they destroy and we rebuild. But fires just go on burning until they are extinguished or we die.