Deep Breath

Deep+Breath

Legend Engberg

Fires in Oregon are becoming an expected occurrence every year. As summer rolls around, we find our forest in flames as the heat picks up. Those larger fires can last for days on end, providing plenty of ash to spread through the air for us to breathe in. So what to do about this ash and smoke?

Before talking about the actual fires themselves, we address the brave firefighters who strive to protect. The firefighters of Oregon are away from their families for days on end, losing sleep for the sake of the public and for others. 

¨…usually it’s about two weeks… that is usually around the minimum, but sometimes it’s a couple days or… a bit longer…¨ Senior Alex Lindacy said about her father who is a firefighter. ¨… I know he doesn’t get a lot of sleep when he’s there, because they have a 24 on 24 off and so in the 24 on there up a lot and there working on the lines…¨  

The fires of Oregon are a usual occurrence during the summer, their frequency has been erratic. The fires have done most of their recorded scorching for the past few years, being prominent in areas with enough room for them to grow.

¨In the last two years…[the forest fires] have been up and down the Cascade Mountains and both on the Alemite side and the central Oregon side.¨ said Sandy Roberts, a public information officer for the firefighters of Oregon.

This frequency has led to a great amount of fires spreading to more than just the forest and over to more populated areas. This has in turn led to the loss of homes, property damage, and loss of life. 

¨… [In] a wildland fire you´ve got public property, personal property, and public land… so the cost is usually…  up over a million…¨ Roberts said, ¨last year, during labor day fires… we lost nine people, and that was seven major fires across the state of oregon… This year we did not have a loss of life… Were talking about fire, which is valittal, unexpected, and in our current conditions moves fast.¨

The span of these fires can grow, growing means they can gather more fuel, and the more fuel there is the longer they can last. Their duration depends on the many factors that come with each environment, allowing for a large potential of fires that can vary in time.

¨…The Eagle Creek fire, which was over four years ago in the gorje… that fire wasn’t officially out for a year and they didn’t declare it officially out because fire can burn underground… as long there [is] fuel, as long as it’s got the tetrahedron: …heat …oxygen, and… fuel…¨ Roberts said,  ¨…Traditionally in past years, fire seasons didn’t start until after the fourth of July, and then went into September, but with our current weather conditions and the condition of our state… fire season is less traditional. We have to expect that we’re going to have fires earlier, which we did this year…¨

Though the heat is in extreme supply it is not needed to cause the fires. The fires can be caused by people, lightning, and other sources, the heat contributes, but it’s not one of the causes of the fires. We might be the ones to blame in certain circumstances.

¨…the hot temperature outside doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it [the fires], it has to do with the fuel: the heat source… we’re in drought…We have to be thinking about that constantly…¨ Roberts said,¨We had a huge lightning event this summer, so that caused 35% of our fires, but most of the time it’s over 80% people caused… which is preventable right, that’s why prevention work and education is so important.. Around wildland urban interface and fire prevention at home…¨

The fires have another cause of their growing outreach and burning blaze. It could be from the lack of caretalking of the forest growth.

¨We have a number of forest where there’s a lot of under stories because they haven’t had other fires for a long time…¨  Gareath Engler, one of the science teachers at WAHS, said ¨…we haven’t cut stuff and so that put for fuel in there which allows them to get to higher temperatures and bigger trees and have more intense fires….¨

But that brings up the question, what about albany? Are there possible places where fires might start and ravage our community? Are we also lacking upkeep in our forest? There is a possibility of that, which puts the northern part of Albany at risk.

¨…wildland fire is possible and the reason it’s possible is because we have areas in albany that mimic forest…¨ Roberts said, ¨…There’s an area in noxfux, if you go to north albany there are forested areas and hills… it’s very much like those wild land urban interfaces… It´s where wild land meets urban, where people live and that is where we need to be doing work to create defensible space around our houses… so we can protect our houses from fires.¨

Moving to the true mance of this heated situation, the smoke, which unlike the fires, can spread through the air with ease as long as there is a strong enough breeze. In case everyone hasn’t noticed, it’s also more prominent. The main cause of the smoke covering long areas was because of the jet stream, a type of weather phenomenon.

¨It can get really far, last year… and this year… because of the jet streams… our smoke traveled all the way to the east coast… ¨ Roberts said, ¨…So that jet stream can take the smoke from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, taking it all the way over to New york… we had smoke in the valley this summer, and that smoke was from portland… if the wind is not blowing and we have a fire the smoke can just settle here and we can actually create what’s called a smoke cap…”

These clouds of smoke can compromise our health and get into more than just our lungs. We need to take proper precautions, because even inside our own houses the ash filled air can still slip through the cracks.

¨When it gets contrasted in areas as we experienced here… the big problems are these… really fine particles, it’s something called pm2.5-¨ Engler said, ¨-those fine particles can get in, deep into are lungs and actually work there ways into our cells… the big thing is keeping homes close, get a air purifier if you can, and staying away from that smoke which were in the valley… and it gets sucked in, it’s a hard thing to do.¨

But the thing that could protect us, might just be on our face, right? We have them 24/7 as we go to the store, to school, in every public environment. The mask we wear during the pandemic helps protect us from Covid, so can they help us against the particles?

¨…It can help a little bit, but it doesn´t help with smoke particulates… it’s not filtering out particles and so you and I can still get particles in our mask… ¨ Roberts said,¨-it’s not going to fully stop [the smoke], it’s not that kind of respirator… I wouldn’t say… don’t wear them at all…¨

Okay now after all you´ve heard; the spread of the flames and smoke, the danger it can have on our health, the danger the northern half is in, and how the causes of the fire have been from the entangled undergrowth. How do we prevent fires?

¨Total prevention, no, ¨ Engler said, ¨and we don’t want to… some of the problem is so much fire suppression in the past that we had a lot of dense forest and now we’re trying to manage that in controlled areas… we get and seems to be going towards dryer seasons… we can’t do anything about that, what we can do is do the planning and try to have some of these controlled burns… so when a fire does come it doesn’t get as hot or as intense. And of course people preparing their homes… so if there is a fire, people can… control it…”

If you wish to know more about the fires of Oregon and home preparation contact Sandy Roberts at cityofalbany.net or check for more information on www.oregon.gov under the ¨Office of State Fire Marshal.¨ Also you can find the fire locations by looking at https://inciweb.nwcg.gov.