We’re spending hours over the last few days trying to find who lost homes and what businesses are gone in southern Oregon, where Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, and south Medford were fire struck a week ago. This is circulating Facebook and speaks volumes.
That smell of wet, burnt wood from a large fire bristles in my memories.
1971. I was fourteen. Dad had just returned from an overseas military assignment and took me in, a refugee from an unhappy time with Mom and her husband then. We lived in Dayton, Ohio, first in an apartment, and then in Wright-Patterson AFB base housing, in a place called Page Manor. We lived there from the beginning of July to the end of August. Then, an opportunity came up. He retired from the military to start a new chapter to his life.
He and I moved to West Virginia and he began his new job. Housing was limited so Dad bought a mobile home. A space was found for it in a trailer park. School started. A month later, the trailer burned up. Days were spent trying to recover what we could from the trailer. I carried a smoky odor around my clothes for months.
Dad’s co-worker let us crash at their place, but it was crowded, and the co-worker had a young wife and a new baby. Goaded by her disenchantment to be rid of us — nothing personal, and I understand it — we found a new place to live within a month.
Coincidentally, that was the same time that I met the girl who would become the woman who would become my wife. We married in 1975, less than four years after meeting. We’ve been together since then, although we’ve had separations and struggles. Amazing to think that I’ve known her since 1971 and have been married to her since 1975. It seems like a lot longer… Bet it seems even longer to her.
It’s all sharp in the head, strong in the memories, that period, a time of destruction, change, and beginning. I can’t say that I don’t look back; I’m always looking back, then turning around and looking forward, re-establishing where I’m at, and moving on.
Or trying to.
- It’s day six since the Almeda Fire started. We last left the house on errands (other than stepping out to look at the sky and yard) last Thursday.
- One cat was sitting on the floor. Another one came around the corner, encountering the first. Both released a startled, “Meow!” We thought that was so funny. I think maybe we’ve been locked up in the house too long.
- Looking back to March. COVID-19 struck. Stay in the house, we’re warned. Then, wear a mask. Businesses shut down. Eventually, we made progress about what should and shouldn’t be done. Businesses opened and set up to accommodate new guidelines to help flatten the curve. Summer arrives. We’re warned to curtail outdoor activities due to extreme temperatures. Wildfires spread up and down along the west coast. We’re warned to stay inside because of unhealthy air. The Almeda Fire starts in our town and rips north and west, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses within twelve hours. We’re warned to stay inside because of hazardous air.
- Meanwhile, we monitor hurricanes and cyclones, melting ice caps, rain and flooding in other places.
- It’s been a tense and stressful six months.
- With all that’s happened in the world, and the things we’ve survived, we’re still among the more fortunate.
- Took the trash out last night. The smoke’s smell seemed less offensive and irritating. Am I developing a tolerance to the stench, or is it finally starting to leave our valley? Naturally I check purpleair.com. Eureka! One monitor reports we’re down to two hundred in one part of town and below four hundred. If we can lop off two hundred more, the air will be just ‘unhealthy’.
- My broken arm and hand’s swelling has finally significantly decreased. I can make a fist with little pain and tightness. Hurrah for progress!
- Writing isn’t going well. I’m an info junkie, hunting a fix, and vetting what I learn. I keep letting myself off the hook. Where the hell is my discipline? Going to go get some coffee, and you know…try to write like crazy, at least one more time.
A graph is worth a lot of description.
Outside the home office window. Not a peak of blue, and nothing of the forests and mountains beyond the line of houses across the street. Ground visibility is about two hundred yards. Photo and graph was as of 10:30 AM, September 11, 2020.
By the way, this wasn’t technically a wild fire. It started as a grass fire and consumed urban areas. It wasn’t the forests on fires; it was the cities.
Just a general update on things for friends and family. My neighborhood and family are safe. Ashland, where the Almeda fire began, is safe. The wind has abated but red flag alerts remain.
Gas stations and stores are busy with exhausted, worried out of towners. The Almeda fire started as a grass fire by a BMX park in Ashland but then spread west and north. The initiating source remains under investigation. Pushed by 40MPH plus gusts, the burned through Talent, then lit up and destroyed Phoenix. South Medford was next. The last word that we had, last night, was that the fire was contained. We’re looking for better info.
Meanwhile, spot fires had been going on, threatening other areas of Medford, Central Point, and Eagle Point, to our north and west. Those seem to have been extinguished. Interstate 5 is open in both directions.
Note: a rumor is going around in certain political circles that Black Lives Matter went along Interstate 5 starting fires. They offer no evidence. Police are working to dispel the stories circulating on social media. To me, these rumors increase the evidence of who this people are; at a time when everyone needs help and should come together, they use lies to plant seeds of distrust. There’s the wildfire that needs to be put out.
We’re under a request to limit water due to the water used to fight fires. We remain at Level 1, ready to go. There are other fires burning in Jackson County. Temperatures have dropped today. Locally, we’re expecting highs in the mid-eighties. But the temperatures will then return to the nineties and perhaps over one hundred. While the immediate worst threat has subsided, staying alert and ready is required.
Our air is smoky. I jump to the conclusion that it’s probably from smoldering areas of our fires. The smoke might be from California to the south, or other fires in Oregon up north.
I’m relieved that we survived here, but the losses suffered by others can’t be overstated. The impact on Talent and Phoenix, our neighboring towns, is like what happened to Paradise, California, and we all remember that. Buildings, homes, and possessions are gone. Our resources through government and charity are stretched. Assessments are still being conducted, and the fire monitored for hotspots. Only when the authorities are assured everything is out will the people be allowed to return to their places, make private assessments, and begin rebuilding.