For the first time today in the Emerald City I experienced Ashfall. My first thought was “How can it be snowing when it’s 80°F out?!” That lasted for about a second before the amber light gave the obvious context. Which, by the by, my time sense is all kinds of distorted by the constant sunset light. The actual sunsets have been pretty spectacular because of all the smoke though.
All the fires have me thinking about the how’s and why’s the fires are so bad. Some reasons are obvious. Humans. We do dumb things, and thoughtless things. Like, are all of you really aware of just how hot the undercarriage of a car can get and that driving or parking over very dry grass can start a fire? It doesn’t actually occur to everyone naturally. There’s also deliberate arson which pisses me off.
Now understand, I’m actually a proponent of controlled burns, done in the correct season, with planning. I’m even in favor of a certain amount of containing natural fires (lightning strikes) but otherwise letting them run their course. There are a fair number of fire adapted plants out there that need exposure to fire to propagate. I cannot stress the importance behind clearing out undergrowth on a regular basis so you get singed trees rather than charcoal when forest fires go through. Or just to make room so new plants can root. Fire has its place.
Right now? There hasn’t been a cloud in the sky, there’s no lightning and no rain, and thankfully no windstorms to become firestorms. Which all you who like to dabble in weather magic or are praying for the winds to change need to give a really good think on. If strong wind doesn’t bring in whole boatloads of rain or blow fire back into burned out areas, it will be a huge problem. As bad as it’s been, we’ve been lucky so far. As many fires as we have, wind would make everything so much worse.
I’m not saying don’t will, or wish, or pray, but think really hard about what you’re asking for. What would be ideal is fat heavy rain clouds that move in slowly or on winds that are high enough up that there’s not much going on at fire level. Then lovely amounts of torrential downpour that soak the areas around the burns so they stop spreading. As hot as these fires are running, I don’t know that even that kind of rain will put any of the burns out directly.
This is the wrong time of year for fires to occur naturally. Sure without humans the occasional bit of dry lightning or focused light might still start one, but natural causes with clear skies and no humans? Not so common. Not impossible, but rare. Heartbreakingly, the causes for several of this year’s fires have been found to be arson. In one case a kid with a fire cracker who ran off laughing. I think they ought to be found and sentenced to scrub showers for firecrew for as long as firecrew is expected to be awake and working. Only seems fair and maybe they’d actually learn something useful from it.
Fire is beautiful and fascinating and temperamental, and I can see how some could be drawn to it, but why not go join crews that do controlled burns, or find outlets that don’t risk the lives of hundreds or burn out beautiful favored hiking spots so thoroughly it could take decades for the fire scars to heal? Is a moment of fun worth the loss of so much?
Why set out to ruin what is beautiful, make the air harder to breathe and add even more work on the shoulders of our already overworked and underslept fire crews?
And now we add a self chosen fire death at Burning Man. While I can empathize with wanting to have a choice in how one goes, and even to finding a form of significance in self-sacrifice, I can’t imagine those who gathered to watch the final burn would have chosen to have that be part of their memory. My heart goes out to the security crew who in the end can’t be expected to keep people from making choices they are that determined to make.
Even down in the Gorge we’ve had someone dump gas on themselves and threaten to light themselves on fire and I’ve heard of others who have gone through with it. It’s like the world has gone a little mad and fire crazed. Or maybe it has been and it’s just being noticed more this year, I don’t know.
I find myself feeling that while we definitely need real world rain, we could also use the spiritual equivalent to cool everyone down and get them thinking again. Whatever fires are burning you up from the inside, please, find another outlet than unfettered destruction by fire. I think it’s safe to say that when ash is falling miles from the closest fire, when sunset lasts all day, and it’s 10°F cooler than it was supposed to be because of all the smoke… that enough is enough.
And here? This is supposed to be the Emerald City. Not the City of Ash and Amber. And yes, there’s a song in that, and maybe a story as well.
If you’re interested in specific, accurate up to date information about the Columbia Gorge Fires, check out the website listed for the photograph above (Whereinthegorge.com) and the Facebook group that my mom helps run that has info coming in from active firecrew. She started working with fire watch groups because she got tired of all the hype and misinformation out there, and has a solid rep for being a reliable place to find real info both on what’s going on and ways to help.
*Info may not be as personally relevant the further you are from Washington and Oregon States, but if you’re curious what we’re facing, start here.