Disasters

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?

* * * * *

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.

Warming.JPG
See https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/ for the full story.

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.

* * * * *

Featured image: Eagle Creek Fire by Paul Didsayabutra

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32 thoughts on “Disasters

  1. I hadn’t heard the cause of your fire, that’s a hard one to bear, both for the community and the boy and his family. Our last big fire in Arizona was caused by a woman whose car broke down, and she lit a fire to give her whereabouts. Apparently it never occurred to her she could use a mirror?
    Fascinating chart, thanks for the link.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are folks who think the boy should be named. I think that would be extraordinarily dangerous given the community anger. But I don’t think anyone would object if he spent the next 20 years doing anonymous community service.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Every year, it seems, I entertain the notion of a special trip down to the Gorge, just for Eagle Creek. My last time on the trail was a few years ago, I think- my oldest boy was with me on that one. When I first heard about this fire, I felt utterly terrible inside.

    As for global warming, climate change and the folks who can’t (or won’t) get their heads around it? I feel like Charlie Brown in one of those classic strips where he just closes his eyes at the misery of it all……..

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Isn’t it awful? We’ve had ashes falling from the sky for days and I’ve coughed in the morning as well. I’ve never been so happy to see rain this year. At least we can all breath again. Definitely related to climate change and some teenagers need to learn the consequences for their actions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been a rough year for the NW, including Canada. Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, it’s just crazy. I understand Glacier Natl Park lost its classic Sperry Chalet building, and a fire map shows the North Cascades Natl park as a big red spot. Beauty is taking a big hit in this country.

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  4. So sad. Such gorgeous country up in flames. We were evacuated in the 2007 San Diego Wildfires where I can’t remember how many 1000’s of homes burned. I feel Oregon’s pain and I am looking at my grandfather’s painting of the Gorge as I type.

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    1. If there’s anything positive about this fire it’s the fact that relatively few houses have been lost – less than 10 as far as I know. The gorge is a designated National Scenic Area so development has been limited.

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  5. The idea of facing more and more of these fires, storms, heat waves, etc. is hard to take. I hope the rains don’t choke the streams with mud and ashes. It’s been hard to understand the emotional and angry climate-change-deniers, and the resentment, suspicion, and anger directed toward scientists, who are just calling a spade a spade.
    I had hoped to visit the Punch Bowl falls

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    1. There is a fish hatchery at the end of Eagle Creek. They’re transferring the fish due to concerns about mud and ashes clogging the intakes. Hopefully, most of the other forest critters were able to transfer themselves.

      People tend to believe what they want to believe and generally get away with it because consequences aren’t severe. Then they’ll believe the BS of demagogues who imply the consequences would be severe if they don’t follow them. Wouldn’t it be nice if critical thinking would be a subject just like English or Math?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The fire sounds like a disaster to me, and I don’t think that it is less of a one because the area impacted is smaller than the areas destroyed by Harvey or Irma. Everyone’s tragedy is important to them, and that’s the way it should be.
    As for global warming, what scares me is the fact that the earth is billions of years old, and yet we have done this much damage in the last 100 or so. I’m not sure it is reversible, especially since we can’t control the pollution being produced from emerging countries. Of course we should try…it’s our only shot…but it may be too late.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I saw an article where Neil deGrasse Tyson suggested it might already be too late to stop global warming – that’s disheartening. Admittedly he is an astrophysicist, not a climatologist, but it is a scientist’s perspective. Considering the political climate the best we may able to hope for is to slow it down a little, and tell all those folks in the big coastal cities to be ready to move. Meanwhile, developers are trying to suppress the publication of the rising sea level stats…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Having been completely ensconced in my own disaster, I have followed your western fires with an equally sick feeling, but an inability to really think about the results. The photos of the orange and red and black skies are terrifying to me, much more so than the flood waters have been, and now you are bringing things home to me by showing us what exactly has been lost. You’re right that it’s a playground of sorts and not necessarily a home, but it’s still very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Given the population of the Houston area and what I’ve heard of loses it’s my assumption that the majority have escaped relatively unscathed, but there’s still a lot of destruction that I imagine will leave its mark on the community for years to come. Would that be accurate?

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      1. To me, the damage seems very widespread and, unlike in many cities that flood, blind to socioeconomic position. Rich and poor alike saw devastation, in all parts of the city. We happened to be on a high point (which I knew when we bought a few months ago!), but there was massive flooding just a few blocks away. It was crazy. You’re right that Houston is very large, and I have no idea of the actual percentage of residents affected. Some people and places will indeed be looking at long-term projects to rebuild.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Very well said, Dave. Global warming is HERE, and blaming hurricanes to homosexuals or saying it’s a Chinese ploy to destroy our economies is just an insult to evolution as it made us the most intelligent – allegedly – species on the planet. Here’s to hoping the global awakening that seems to have happened with the Paris agreement will reach America as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It amazes me sometimes how the same species can be so smart and so dumb at the same time. Whether we are the most intelligent species relative to our environment is open to question, but it’s probably fair to say we’re the most manipulative.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I tend to agree with just about everything you said except one point. One should not attribute one year’s events to climate change. I could equally point out that for the last ten years we have had far fewer hurricanes in the South than we did in the five before that. Having said that, it is clear the climate is changing.
    I had one experience, however, that made me wonder about all the theories. I was at the Athabasca Glacier in Alberta. Near a sign explaining that the quick retreat of the glacier in the last fifty years was due to global warming was another sign saying they had drilled down through the glacier and found evidence of a forest that grew there just five thousand years ago!
    I once did future’s research for a major corporation and take comfort in the phrase: “short-term prophecies are self-fulfilling; long-term prophecies are self-correcting.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d agree that one year’s events, by itself, does not constitute a trend. But it is fair to look at one year as part of a larger trend. Your note of fewer storms in recent years is actually consistent with what I’ve heard forecasted for global warming; fewer, more powerful storms. In that respect, the number of storms this year is actually the anomaly.

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  10. The news of this fire truly broke my heart ~ I had just left the States, and talking with my sister and her husband who do the Cycle Oregon ride every year…and it was canceled due to the rash of wildfires in Oregon. They live in Boring, and all around they saw their favorite trails and sites literally go up in smoke. Heartbreaking. The feature image is awesome in beauty as it is in it horror.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m with you on global warming, and you all in Portland have really had it rough this year! Up where I am, just outside Seattle, there were a few days when we found ash on our cars from fires nowhere near us. The air was uncomfortably smoky for a string of days, too – but nothing like what you’ve had to deal with. Now, what do the rains have in store for us? What about winter? I fear more extremes, and extremes aren’t the norm here. I’ve actually become used to the even-handed weather of the Pacific northwest after moving from the east coast 5 years ago. But….we may be headed for something very different.
    Thanks for the thoughtful post, well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect this winter will be much like the last one, and more extreme weather will be the rule rather than the exception. I grew up in Minnesota, so whenever things get extreme here I think back to all those below zero days and figure, it could be worse…

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