Is there anything more universally loathed than smoke? Let’s face it: smoke sucks. AND it’s gotten to be a regular unwelcome visitor, much worse than the months of drizzle we used to complain about. Oh Lordy, how we would jump and cheer for a few days of THAT!! Please drizzle on us, weather gods!
Everyone talks about smoke but no one does anything about it, as Mark Twain said about weather in general. But we ARE doing something about it. We’re fighting fires with our brave crews (who are indeed courageous and relentless), but in the next moment, more and more people speak the inconvenient truth that WE DID THIS!
It’s almost become a political issue, like the Houston hurricane-flood. People are putting two-and-two together and saying, hey, wildfire (used to be called forest fire) is getting more intense, burning more acres with more individual fires and longer season. It didn’t used to be that way — so what changed?
Hard as it is to believe, fighting fires caused forest fires. It’s the buildup of fuels in the lower story of our great forests. They used to be park-like because we let them burn — or rather (note the human hubris) we “let” nature burn ‘em. So the highly flammable brush and forest detritus disappeared and you could easily walk through the forest. The trees were more widely spaced and taller (old growth, they called it). We took out most of that.
Anyway, you can’t boss Mother Nature around. She’s very sensitive and, you may have noticed, very into paybacks. Why, just the other day, we in the Northwest Tinder Box of America read that in the ‘70s, the average fire burned for 6 days and was satisfied with that. Not now. Given a boost by higher average temperatures, they each like to burn 10 times longer than that!
If some enemy did that to us, we would do something like the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. So let’s do it! Instead of “doing something,” all we have to do is nothing. Just put down them chainsaws. That’s it! Let it burn, baby!
That would be crazy. It would burn for years — and a lot of weird new tree species would predominate. Replanting would create zillions of jobs, right? Truth is, we can’t forecast the whims, vagaries and wandering course of nature and who knows what would happen?
The one thing we do know is Nature Bats Last. She has a deep bullpen, too.
We asked highly informed Ashlanders how they cope with the uncontrollable:
Dan Dawson — We’re attempting to restrict activity to the indoors. We’re exercising less and don’t ride bicycles now. We got air purifiers in our bedrooms and are running air conditioning more. It gives a minor purification. Masks? It’s not clear to me they do anything. Smoke is certainly depressing. If you spend any time outdoors, you feel headachey and a little bit sick. It’s happening because of a century of our mismanagement of public lands. We’ve unnecessarily suppressed fire for a long time. We haven’t understood its role in the environment. Forests are choked with fuel.
Steve Bosbach — We drive more instead of walking to the store and bicycling. That’s a bummer. It puts a big crimp on hiking and cycling. We haven’t been on our bikes in weeks. We do manage to walk two miles a day. We walk back and forth to the car without masks. We pick up the information of the news, like JPR. About climate change, you can say, “oh, this is a bad season,” but in the long run, there’s a definite connection, like with Hurricane Harvey. It’s not the only factor but it’s there. The city of Ashland has a pretty good handle on it. Our government lags (at higher levels) but they allow some burning near metro areas. I’m not trying to do trips to get away. I’ve got friends with respiratory issues who are going to Eugene.
Jim Williams — It’s horrendous, terrible, the worst I ever experienced in my life, 50 years. Past fires were more transient, shorter and less intense. There’s no end in sight to this. I’m surprised at the lack of communication from authorities. You’d think they would initiate general guidelines to protect your health and the health of your children, but you have to fend for yourself on the internet. It’s all very hazardous but there aren’t clear instructions, for example about exercise. I get worried about our children, who have to get outside at school. Absolutely we have to wear masks. We left town for the weekend, to Portland. We drastically have cut down on being outdoors. My kids are on the track team and they’re struggling. The coach is trying to find windows to work out. It’s a crazy thing and getting worse. Do we wait till they start showing up in the emergency room?
Tara Thomas — I’m putting in air purifiers and masks for myself and my employees. They have to go outside to serve food. My daughter has asthma. We are getting ready to settle in for two or four more weeks of this. I am ordering fabric masks with .3 micron filters. I definitely feel different — sore throat, headache, anxiety. Last night, I felt the starting of panic. Exercise? I try not to exercise. My son is in soccer and the whole season is (kaput). About climate, I think it’s the inevitable result — burning to extreme flooding. We’ve created weather patterns where you can’t get ahead of it, such as all those years of drought, and now this.
Dermot O’Brien – It’s horrible, horrible. I stay inside as much as possible. I’m going to get a mask now. What’s the cause of it? There’s just so many damn fires.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.