The long stretch of summer days is always a mixed blessing for the people who call Oregon home. On one hand, locals look to the dry, sunny weather as a welcome reprieve from the region’s typical moody, damp environment. Denizens love to soak up the sun on the Pacific Northwest’s vast array of patios and decks, but when the area goes too long without recuperative rain, a nagging dread creeps into the minds of the people who call the PNW home.
That sense of concern burst into terrifying reality in early September when high winds and prolonged dry weather conspired to ruin thousands of people’s days.
In late August, President Donald Trump dismissed growing concerns of wildfire safety by blaming the issues on the states where those fires burned. At a Pennsylvania rally, Trump quipped, “I see again the forest fires are starting. They’re starting again in California. I said, you gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests — there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”
Trump added, “Maybe we’re just going to have to make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”
The White House’s flippant response to an annual danger (that has literally nothing to do with picking sticks up off the forest floor) extended from California to the state of Oregon when dry conditions and whipping winds saw several fires spring to life. The federal response, which amounted to a shrug and the insinuation that Oregonians and Californians should have voted Republican if they wanted support during a natural disaster may have exacerbated what would end up one of the worst fire seasons on record.
As wildfires grew into uncontrollable blazes, Oregon Governor Kate Brown prepped residents for a “mass fatality event” as more than 40,000 people evacuated their homes. For days, a sickly, yellow haze blanketed huge swaths of the state. Portland, Oregon briefly held the dubious honor of the second-worst air quality on the planet. Several Oregon communities — Blue River, Detroit, Talent, Phoenix, and more — were decimated by the blaze. More than a million acres of land were scorched. Gov. Brown called the devastation, “the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”
As the state looks back on the devastation, there’s hope that the destruction wrought in 2020 will remain a once-in-a-lifetime even for those who call Oregon home. However, with increased climate change concerns and another dry year on the horizon, the future is anyone’s guess.