The fires started more than a week ago. On Monday of last week it was a little smoky in the distance. Tuesday we could see heavy wildfire smoke to the west and south. Wednesday our air was noticeably smoky, and we went to level 1 (Be Ready) evacuation status. Andrea and I packed what we thought we’d need and put our bags by the front door as the Level 3 (Go) area expanded to our southeast. Thursday the area in between of level 2 (Be Set) crept closer to us, to just five miles south of us. We decided that was close enough and went to our son’s house in Portland’s West Hills area — farther from the fires. We hoped, too, to get above the smoke since his house is at a higher elevation but it was only marginally less smoky. We left our house not knowing if it would be there when we got back.
We kept checking the evacuation levels on Friday. The level 3 grew but level 2 didn’t get closer. By Saturday we began wondering if we would have to leave Portland. The air quality was worse and the fires were still not under control. We drove home to get warm clothes and additional supplies in case we needed to flee east to Idaho or Montana or Wyoming. But at least our house was still there and the fires were no closer than they had been on Friday.
Portland air quality continues to be the worst in the world, but at least we are safe and inside, with filtered air. At least we had the option of fleeing the area if we felt the need. Many are far worse off than are we. Far, far worse.
Yesterday afternoon briefly we could see a few clouds and just a little blue sky above us. It wasn’t much and it didn’t last long, but it was a hopeful sign. Today the outside air quality has dropped below 400 for the first time in days — another hopeful sign. (For a while it was over 500. Anything above 150 is unhealthy.)
I find myself stuck, waiting — deer in the headlights.
I smoked cigarettes when I was younger. Finally disgusted with the habit, I gave them up in 1978 and never had any desire to restart. But oddly, for the first time in more than 40 years I wished for a cigarette. It’s something to do to keep yourself busy and takes no thinking. Like drinking, or overeating. Something to do while you’re waiting.
But of course, for most of us life goes on. The pandemic continues, the political turmoil continues, the social unrest continues. The disruptors continue spreading fear and loathing, hoping for advantage while we are distracted with more basic needs. Rumors fill social media, some amplified by people in power.
Climate change deniers continue to sow lies and distrust. But these fires are a result of the changing weather patterns. There are other reasons, too, of course — populated areas pushing more and more against the forest’s edge, for one. And, yes, poor forest management. The forest management was based on ideas that have proven to be wrong. We learn as we go. Most of the forest land in the West is federally owned and managed. Blaming the states for poor management of it would be like blaming me for my neighbor not tending his garden.
For now Andrea and I are safe here with our son and his family. We are safe as we wait while the firefighters exhaust themselves trying to control the blazes. And we wait for the winds to shift to clear the air. And we are alive and together as we wait. How wonderful.
[The iPhone camera is great. It really cuts through the haze. These pictures are a lot clearer than they looked to our smoke-filled eyes.]