The news tells us the local metro area has the worst air quality in the country: of the top five worst cities we’ve got four of them. This is thanks to the Eagle Creek fire, 30-40 miles up the Columbia Gorge from Portland. Is this why I’ve been waking up with a persistent cough and stinging eyes lately?
On the overall scale of things, the Eagle Creek fire doesn’t compare to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Although it’s nearly 50,000 acres it’s not even close to being the largest fire in Oregon, at 190,000 acres the Chetco Bar fire in the SW corner holds that dubious honor. But it’s still our little brush with disaster, close enough for the natural wind tunnel of the gorge to blow ash into our yards and onto our cars. One of the regional freeways, I-84 has been closed for a week and has only now has had the westbound lane reopened.
Folks impacted the hurricanes in Florida and Houston would sneer at a little ash, but that’s not the disaster. It’s what burned that burns us.
If you check the “Best Liked Posts” section of this blog, you’d find a post called Punch Bowl holds the number one slot. As much as I’d like to think the quality of the writing has vaulted that post to the top, it’s obvious that it’s the raw beauty of Punch Bowl falls and the trail that leads to it that has caused the oohs and aahs that triggered all the Likes. That was the Eagle Creek trail. Thanks to the thoughtlessness of a teenager with fireworks, that profound beauty is now a charred wasteland. That stings.
Perhaps, sometime next year, they’ll reopen the trail. Perhaps, in 10 years it’ll regain some of its former glory. Even the areas around Mount Saint Helens, blown to smithereens 37 years ago by a volcanic eruption have regained a measure of beauty, albeit some of it of the desolate sort.
At least they were able to save the lodge at Multnomah Falls. If you’ve ever been a tourist in the region chances are you’ve seen it, it draws 1 million to 1.5 million visits each year. But while that was the main draw for a quick visit, that whole section of the gorge was rich with waterfalls and idyllic trails. You can see some of that beauty in my Gorge-ous Views posts, parts one, two, and three. Alas, I expect most of that is burned now too.
All this destruction leaves a sick feeling in my stomach. It also helps drive home the impact of disasters on others, on the other side of the country or the other side of the world – it makes them more real than the abstractions you see on the news. If I feel this way from my playground being destroyed, what would it be like to lose my home?
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What is behind these disasters? It would be easy to say, in the case of the Eagle Creek fire it was a careless 15-year-old. But that’s only part of the story. The whole area is a tinderbox, thanks to plenty of fuel, and three months with almost no rain and plenty of hot weather. This extreme is the opposite of last winter – record rains for two of the winter months, over 50 inches of rain between October and April, and a rare snowstorm that dropped a foot and a half on Portland. Extreme weather has become the norm, what used to be called a 100-year storm is happening with regularity. Consider Harvey and Irma; at times in their life cycles both were doing record-breaking things. And a new string of hurricanes appears to be lined up behind them.
For anyone who doesn’t have their head buried in the sand, the common denominator for these extreme weather events is clear – it’s global warming. Even if it’s a cold event. Global warming has added energy to global weather systems, causing them to become more active – they move more heat, they move more air regardless of its temperature. It didn’t cause the Eagle Creek fire, but it set the stage. It didn’t cause Harvey and Irma, but the much warmer than usual ocean temperatures have made those storms more powerful than they would have been otherwise.
Some argue that global warming is a normal part of the earth’s cycle that man has not affected. A simple chart shows the absurdity of that argument. Mankind, his exploding population, and his industrial waste have had a clear impact.
It’s clearly time for those who have been profiting from this industry to learn how to profit by reversing this trend. Otherwise these extreme weather events, these disasters will only get worse and more frequent.
The forecast for Portland, finally, is rain for the next couple days. There’s hope that it will help douse the fires, but fears that the newly denuded ground will yield to landslides. At the least, it should help clear the air.
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Featured image: Eagle Creek Fire by Paul Didsayabutra