The wildfires burning through Oregon’s forests this month have already devastated many communities, and will be burning for weeks to come. As of this writing in mid-September, the largest fires — Riverside, Beachie Creek, Lionshead, Archie Creek and Holiday Farm — are only partially contained and have burned nearly a million acres in multiple counties. The Almeda Fire has destroyed the towns of Talent and Phoenix. All this amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Still being tallied are the numbers of people killed, injured and displaced, and homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.
The smoke from these fires, and others across the West, has caused unhealthy or hazardous air quality for most Oregonians, urban and rural.
Portlanders and urban Oregonians may not be aware that in an average fire season, there are more than 1,000 wildfires in Oregon — most burning in remote areas.
Historically, about 70 percent of Oregon wildfires are caused by humans, and 30 percent by lighting. However, in remote areas in eastern Oregon, lightning-caused fires are far more common, and tend to burn much larger areas.
Most of Oregon’s harvested timber comes from private forest land, but we don’t yet know how much of that land has burned and what the impact will be on the timber industry.
Governors Brown and Inslee are emphasizing the role of climate change in the fires. That is part of the equation, but the experts we've talked to say it's a two-fold issue — drier conditions and a huge fuel load. Addressing climate change will take years to have an impact, but reducing the fuel load can be done more quickly.
Unfortunately, many forest fuel reduction projects face lengthy procedural and legal challenges. And until the fuel load is reduced, there will be big fires.