One of our jackals, Jim Appleton, is the former fire chief in Mosier, Oregon. I asked if he might like to share a bit of his perspective with us.
I have ten years of active duty as a fire chief not far from the worst of what’s happening in Oregon. I’m on the dry east side of the Cascade crest, very different from the wet rainforest that is now burning up.
I have limited knowledge or expertise on the wildfires consuming huge swaths of our west coast, but I do have some perspective which is relevant.
First, a comment on scale. Nothing like what is happening on the west coast has happened in memory, if ever in the current epoch.
Second, though forest management is a contributing factor, the weather events which are driving the current firestorm are unprecedented.
There’s no question that, as Senator Wyden calls out, forest management since about 1920 has resulted in hazardous fuels accumulation. Continuing, fire management practices dating to about 1940 have led to a build-up of those accumulations beyond their original problem. Those are background noise at the moment.
The two most significant factors behind these fires are drought and the highly unusual weather patterns which drove them. Hot, dry, east winds at hurricane force are completely unknown in summertime in Oregon’s temperate west side. Westside rainforests are poorly adapted to desert fire conditions, and the heavy fuel load results in fast-moving very hot infernos, which cure the wet thick brush and timber before ignition.
Drought and unprecedented east winds cannot absolve poor management. In fact, they draw a box around why blaming poor management is bone-headed. And why what we’re seeing is likely not the last of unprecedented fire seasons.
Lastly, a note from close to the epicenter which I don’t see observed. My own community – hours away from the fires – has essentially shut down for the last week. Recreation, tourism, agriculture which are our lifeblood have dried up, afterwe are already reeling from Covid impact.Taco trucks, casual shopping, even gardening do not happen, all because of smoke.
Those effects are nothing compared to the devastation nearby. But this is one more way this bizarre year may reverberate for some time. Thanks to WaterGirl for keeping the 2020 fires on the radar.
If you have any questions for Jim, please add them to the comments.