Afterthoughts of a wildfire evacuee


Oregon is on fire. 

In my small section of southern Oregon the Almeda fire rocked the community. Most anyone who lives or has lived in Ashland also knows intimately the smaller, adjacent towns of Talent and Phoenix. For years I explored their neighborhoods, cruising up and down the streets, admiring the views and learning the landscape. It was just something I did for fun. 

By now, we've all seen the horrific images of devastation left behind. Today, I'm still trying to reconcile the before and after scenes. Pull it up on Google Maps and you'll see that Highway 99 is a major artery connecting Medford (where I now live) to Ashland. Locals are familiar with residences and businesses alike. I may not have been in the thick of the actual fire sites, but I was close enough that I haven't been able to find my groove almost two weeks later. 

Fires in Oregon are a fact of life. Residents are reminded routinely about fire hazards, but do we really listen? Like a gnat, it just buzzed in my periphery. Wildfires always happened out there even as every other year the smoke's bad enough to choke us all and have us seriously contemplate moving out of state. 

You can't get far without hearing that someone or another has lost their home or business. The main highway is still roadblocked. Even the backdoor route into those towns is closed. Only residents can get through and even then it's only with police escort.

A couple of days after the start of the fire, drone footage of the scorched areas was already popping up on YouTube. To the average viewer, it's pretty shocking. As this is my community, it's a hundred times more difficult to absorb. Over and over I kept saying, Hey, we know these places! That's where we shopped, that's where we ate, that's where we thought it would be cool to live! Thinking on it still makes my breath hitch.

The fires are getting worse every year. They are more frequent, more intense. More are burning simultaneously. Of course this is the result of climate change. Conspiracy theories are ridiculous and don't deserve attention. And we're not having a sudden influx of wildfires because Oregonians aren't raking their forests, either.

If it weren't for my son's initial warning text (my neighborhood was already at a Level 2), I wouldn't have been as prepared as I was when we evacuated just a handful of hours later. My case was packed. I had no clue that a fire was racing toward me, having scorched at least 10 miles from its origination. I didn't know the three levels of preparedness (Get Ready, Get Set, Go!) or where to look to stay informed. 

But you can bet your last dollar I know now. Governor Kate Brown holds wildfire conferences that are streamed live on YouTube every other day to keep us informed and safe. Seeking refuge in a hotel room miles away gave me lots of time to find the info I needed.

As I write this, approximately one million acres have burned all over the state, and almost 2,200 residences and over 1,400 other structures have been  destroyed. A person can't escape the smoke. Every time the wind picks up, or a siren sounds, or an exceptionally strong whiff of burning reaches my nostrils, I tense and look out the window, searching for some clue that I'll need to be ready again. Is it any wonder that I'm so distracted? 

Sometimes, tragic things happen to get our attention, to urge us out of a stagnant state when we otherwise wouldn't have, much like Reve and John Walsh founded the Adam Walsh Center for Missing Children after the horrific murder of their son. Sometimes it takes a total wipe out to make way for something new and improved. 

I don't think it's a stretch to say that Oregon is experiencing a purification of sorts, a trial by fire if you will, something beyond the obvious (climate change). Could it be to reconcile her unsavory racist past? Shall we take a closer look at what is it we need to change? (BLM, anyone?) I'm not sure what it is she needs to learn or whether there are more trials to come, but like a phoenix rising from the ash, she will come away renewed and ready to begin again.

5 comments

  1. Bravo your post expressed everything and I mean everything that I have been feeling. This has the most exhausting experience. Being on constantly alert has been unsettling and downright frightening. I hope the state of Oregon will rise like a phoenix and rebuild their inner self and stop the hate and for goodness sake adopt the sales tax. Cheers.

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    1. I love not having a sales tax, but even I can see the huge benefit of adopting one to help fund much-needed resources for fellow Oregonians.

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    2. I wish for Oregonians sake they would use common sense and adopt a sales tax. They use the property taxes paid by homeowners and that has created such a rift of the haves and have nots. And dear god the conservatives hatred toward Governor Brown is horrible and embarrassing. Hope the flames have purified this state. Cheers.

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  2. Hi, it's your friend Karin(Jerseygirltoo) from PBS. Oregon is a beautiful state, and I'm so sorry for your troubles out there.

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    1. Hi Karin! So good of you to stop by ;) Oregon does have a certain charm but the fires are wearing me out. Though there are about 10 active fires still, none are very close by. It took a while to get through the initial shock, and the community is rallying. I just found out by chance that it's best to change the house and car air filters!

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