Wildfire in the West


I have been following the news about the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon very closely, as Nita Wilton –Throwback at Trapper Creek – had to evacuate her family farm, leaving behind most of her animals. Nita lives on her family’s 100+ year-old farm, homesteaded by her grandparents, where she raises grass-fed beef and has a garden that makes my mouth water. If the fire goes through, she stands to lose everything.
Forest and grass fires are the kind of thing that can happen very quickly in the tinder-dry summer. A thunderstorm in our area during the summer is a mixed blessing, because unless we get a real gully-washer and sometimes even then, the risk of fires from lightning strikes is very high. We have a number of fires burning in the northstate right now, one of them the Helena fire in the Weaverville area. Yesterday morning was was the first time in two weeks that I had actually seen sky at sunrise instead of smoke haze. In this case, however, the fire is apparently the direct result of human stupidity – teenagers throwing smoke bombs and/or fireworks into the Columbia River gorge.
Dry conditions, plenty of fuel and even the smallest amount of wind are a recipe for disaster when you have a rangeland fire; the fire will make its own wind as well as whatever the atmospheric conditions produce. A forest fire that is crowning — leaping from one tree top to another — is one of the fastest things I’ve ever seen. My husband, a former hotshot firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, says that a light wind of three or four miles an hour can quickly reach gale force when moving along with a big fire. A fire the size of the Eagle Creek Fire can easily move at 15 miles an hour and will literally obliterate whatever stands in its way. As the fire moves, it heats the area in front of it, flash-drying the already dry tinder and super-heating the air. The combination can warm the air to almost 1,500 degrees Farenheit and cause what’s called flashover — the ignition of tree canopies from superheated, dry air. If the fire is severe enough to produce fire whirls, these mini-tornadoes can create winds of 50 miles an hour.
Add to that steep terrain, choked with brush, downed timber and rocks, and firefighters in many cases can do little more than protect buildings where possible while air support in the form of Foschek bombers and helicopters drop retardant and water on the flames to try to slow the fire’s advance. At night, it’s the men and women on the ground who must take up the slack, as you can’t use planes and helicopters when you can’t see the ground.
The Eagle Creek fire is now over 33,000 acres and no containment in sight. And it’s not even the biggest fire in Oregon – the Chetco Bar fire is over 176,000 acres. Please keep the folks in the West who are dealing with fires in your thoughts, and be careful out there.

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1 Response to Wildfire in the West

  1. Karen says:

    Please, keep us updated. So very sorry to hear about Nita.

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