That's pretty much the news around here.
Looking at an active wildfire map this week, the western half of the country looks entirely ablaze — and it’s only early July. It’s usually September before wildfire activity maps of the western U.S. show so much color.
My mind goes to all the places I’ve lived and the dangers of natural disaster in each area: tornadoes, earthquakes, massive earthquakes with likelihood of smothering mudslide, blizzards….. I’ve only skipped living in the heartland where the tornadoes seem on steroids, although I did stay in Oklahoma City for a few months one year. Thankfully, no F4 behemoths came through.
There’s always something, people like to say.
But that’s not helping much today as our family goes down the various lists at www.readyforwildfire.org, preparing for the worst possibilities as the Klamathon fire grows and pushes north towards our region. We live in southern Oregon. The likelihood of this fire reaching us may not be huge but over the past few years, perspectives about wildfire danger have changed.
Everyone used to assume towns, and certainly cities, would be okay in fire season, especially towns with good resources and active fire prep activity — it seemed to most people and used to be mostly true, summer wildfires stick to wildernesses. There, summer fire is a natural process that encourages tree re-seeding and good forest health. But those days of complacency in towns all across the west are gone. While stories abound anywhere of wildfire destruction on the fringes of settled areas, or individual narrow escapes, firefighters have almost always prevailed, risking life and limb to protect our communities. Then, my personal wake up call, the Boles fire. It came through Weed, California in 2014, burning down the library and multiple homes and businesses. It was a small fire, relatively, but. it. burned. down. the library! That’s the one that hit home for nose-in-a-book me.
Then, the terribly destructive Santa Rosa fires of 2017. One on-line writer, Robert Starkey, has told his stories of how he was affected, sadly, beautifully. And perspectives about wildfire changed in towns and cities all across the west. Part of the city of Santa Rosa burned? Hardly wilderness, not even remotely located. Santa Rosa?? Even with all the incredibly hardworking firefighters who have leaped to the top of the list of what ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ means ever since my own moving out West? It doesn’t take long for anyone who lives out west to realize how courageous these people are.
As a child growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, it was tornadoes that scared me. A couple small ones touched down in our neighborhood, one taking out the new neighbor’s brand new home while leaving one classmate’s house across the street virtually untouched. Another barely hit the back of our elementary school bus one morning, sending us into a slight tailspin that shook us kids up, that small incident turning into hair-raising, death-defying tales by the end of the school day. In my childhood dreams, darting, aggressive tornadoes would come zipping through our den and living room while I nimbly dodged them, jumping right, diving left, until waking up terrified in the middle of the night (again), half in the present world, half still evading twisters in dreamland.
As an adult living in rain-soaked Humboldt county, California, it was earthquakes and mudslides and tsunamis. Humboldt has the potential for the largest earthquakes on the planet, thanks to the Cascadia subduction zone, smaller than the San Andreas fault but viewed with increasing concern by seismologists for its potentially and historically massive quakes, community-destroying tsunamis following. The endless tsunami nightmares I had while living there made it impossible for me to consider putting down long-term roots in that shaky land. I later found out that one Humboldt State University student did a survey of people’s dreams all over the county and those who lived in historically tsunami-stricken lowlands, or deep in steep canyons as we did, had the same series of tsunami dreams while living there, towering waves that either tumbled and drowned or turned immense water roller coaster to ride, depending on the dreamer.
And now I live in wildfire — and drought — country with millions of others, where the natural disaster dangers, from wildfire anyway, are limited to the dry season…
which sadly and dangerously, extends longer and longer each year.