Big Wildfires in the West: Why, How, What To Do?

The western U.S. has seen large, destructive wildfires on a daily basis this summer. Already in 2013, the acreage burned is more than three times the size of Rhode Island. What’s more, the worst may be yet to come. Large swathes of the western U.S

For the past week wildfires, set off by lightning strikes, have taken over the mountains within 25 miles of my hometown of Grants Pass, Oregon.  Evacuations are happening in smaller communities, and my bags are semi-packed – just in case.

It’s not uncommon for wildfires to be happening in Oregon during the summer months, but it’s very unusual for several of them to be less than 5% contained for over a week.

Even more uncommon is the extremely unhealthy air quality that is overtaking the Rogue Valley and drifting as far south as Napa, California.  A state of emergency has been declared in the Southwest corner of Oregon state due to the extreme nature of multiple wildfires.

From my house the visibility is about 1/4 mile.  What does that mean?  Thick smoke has taken over and it’s painful to breathe.  It looks dark, like it does in November when the fog rolls in.

You can’t help but wonder if you’ll see a glow on the hillside when night falls, but if you do, you know it’s time to evacuate.  It’s kind of tough to go to sleep each night wondering if the next day, will bring something more daunting.  At the same time, it also makes you extremely grateful for times that are not like these.

smoke masksDon’t Leave Home Without ‘Em

Smoke Can Make You Sick

Today my daughter and I attempted to go see a movie.  Feeling a bit caged in, we put on surgical masks and headed to the car.  Driving with our headlights on (so other drivers could see us through the fog-like haze), we arrived to an empty parking lot.  The movie theater was closed due to the high level of smoke inside the theater.

Not being able to fathom the idea of a wasted trip, we then headed to Wal-mart for a furnace filter.  Wal-mart  too, was filled with smoke, although it was busy as usual. 

Once home I had a headache, my eyes were burning and my chest hurt.  I’d been out for 45 minutes, with a mask. My dogs (who are inside), were coughing and sick to their stomachs.  This is with air purification going, so I can only imagine how other people, pets and livestock who have to be out in this air must be feeling.

It’s difficult to know when this summer of smoke will end, but I’m grateful for the firefighters who are coming from as far as Florida to help in the effort to contain Oregon wildfires.  

We truly appreciate the help during this crazy time.

If you want updates for the current Southern Oregon Fires, check out this Incident Information System website.

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