Wildfires burn through the West Coast

BY GRACE PESTRIDGE

This summer 300,000 acres of Oregon land was destroyed in wildfires, which tore through the state as result of an uncharacteristically dry winter that Oregon had this year. Since January, 933 wildfires have occurred in Oregon. That is 75 more fires than the 10 year average of an annual 858. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) reports that of those 933 fires, 262 were caused by lightning and 671 due to human activity. Human causes range from illegal bonfires to sparks from a lawnmower.

The ODF believe that the severe fires this summer were a result of the dry winter on the West Coast. Oregon and Washington both declared drought crises this year. California declared a drought emergency in early 2014. Water restrictions have so far been put in place, but these are ineffective at protecting the hundreds and thousands of acres of dry fire fueling land. As a result, small fires spread fast and grew into full-fledged wildfires in all three states this summer.

Farmers and ranchers have also been greatly affected. Since wildfires have damaged so much land, many ranchers and farmers have lost most, if not all, of their grazing land for the next two-three years. Jeff VanArsdall of Baker City talked about how “…the Windy Ridge fire was about one mile from our property. We stayed up for 10 days making sure the ranch didn’t burn down.” In addition, many have lost cattle and other livestock due to smoke inhalation, severe burns and other issues caused by the fire.

In 2014 Oregon was ranked first in the nation for number of acres burned. A total of 984,629 acres were destroyed.

Many of the wildfires caused evacuations throughout the state this summer. On Aug. 22 alone the ODF added 10 new evacuations to their already growing list.

Wildfires have also caused concern for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Winds can bring smoke into areas that are not near the fire’s center. Possible health risks from this smoke can include angry and itchy eyes, irritated respiratory system, and the worsening of chronic heart and lung diseases. Those who already have some type of chronic disease are at especially high risk for medical issues when exposed to smoke. Because wildfire smoke can also carry gasses and particles of burnt trees and plants it is more dangerous than regular smoke. If excess amounts of smoke are carried into areas such as Portland and Lake Oswego it could mean modified sport practice and other outdoor activity.

Oregon is not the only state that was plagued with a series of wildfires this summer. Washington, California,Montana, and Wyoming also suffered. Currently there are six active fires in California. In Washington there are eight. On August 19 three Washington firefighters lost their lives battling a fire near the town of Twisp.

The ODF and the OHA both have tips to staying safe and avoiding danger during the fires. You can access them at:

http://wildfireoregondeptofforestry.blogspot.com
https://public.health.oregon.gov/Preparedness/Prepare/Pages/PrepareForWildfire.aspx