Call them 'climate fires,' Washington's governor argues
'Where are you gonna go now?' California evacuees ask
A handful of evacuees from the North Compelx have sought refuge at the Home Depot in Oroville. Some slept in their cars earlier in the week and several RVs remain in the parking lot.
Rob Williams, who lost his home in Paradise in 2018, evacuated from the North Complex fire late Tuesday night with his wife, dog and cat. They considered staying but could see the nearby hills glowing with flames. The couple packed up their camper, forced to leave behind their goats and chickens, and fled to the large parking lot of the Home Depot where staff welcomed evacuees with bottles of water.
With a camper, the couple can at least be comfortable, Williams says. “You can close your eyes and pretended you’re in the redwoods.”
It’s the second time he’s camped in a Home Depot parking lot after escaping a fire in two years. He’d leave the state, but his grandchild in Butte County keeps him here. And fires, he says, are “just part of life now.”
“Where are you gonna go now?” He asks. “Idaho is on fire. Oregon is on fire. Back East they have tornadoes.”
In Paradise, California, 'people thought the fires were behind us'
The devastation spreading across the west coast this week is familiar to the residents of Paradise, where in 2018 California’s deadliest fire killed 85 people.
In Paradise today, smoke was again draped over the town like fog. Ash from the nearby North Complex fires piled up on sidewalks and gutters and blew through the air. The new fire has killed 10 people in Berry creek, a nearby foothill hamlet, and largely leveled that town.
At Treasures from Paradise, an antique shop that was destroyed in the fire and reopened in 2019, owners Barbara and Rick Manson had planned to keep the store closed Friday to focus on cleaning up the ash from outside and removing the smell of smoke indoors. But as they worked, customers streamed in, still looking for a slice of normalcy amid another disaster, and the Mansons couldn’t turn them away.
“People came in and wanted to shop, and we said ‘come on in’,” Barbara said as a handful of customers walked around the store, admiring the small bits of antiques and inspecting the Paradise themed-goods, T-shirts and metal signs. “We’re gonna be here as long as the place doesn’t burn down around us.”
Paradise isn’t considered at risk at this point, though earlier in the week, officials issued an evacuation warning for parts of Paradise. At that point, the Mansons, who live in Chico but have run an antique store on the Ridge for decades, came and gathered their important paperwork. The shop was dark due to a power shutoff, and traffic piled up outside, reminiscent of that Thursday morning in November 2018 when thousands had to flee all at once. The couple is optimistic, and think Paradise will be safe, but still are preparing for any possibility. Rick has been watering the grass and around the building to protect in the event of another fire.
“A lot of people are hurting. I think people thought the fires were behind us,” Barbara said.
At Nic’s, a restaurant that Nicki Jones, 75, opened just last year, diners ate their food at socially-distanced tables and neighbors and friends ran into one another. Butte county announced this week that restaurants could open for indoor dining as smoke from the 252,534 acre wildfire created unhealthy air, though by mid-afternoon it would rescind that order.
Jones, whose new home is expected to be move-in ready next month, said that despite the threat of fire and ongoing risk, she was committed to Paradise. The business was doing well, though faced challenges from Covid, she said.
“I love what I do and I love my town,” she said. “That keeps me going.”
Amid estimates that the west coast climate fires are already six times more expansive than they were last year, economic impact forecasts are rudimentary at best.
But a study of the devastating wildfire season of 2018 does offer some instruction.
In all, that wildfire season burned 8.7m acres, far surpassing the 10-year average of 6.8m acres a year. The total cost was a staggering $24bn, primarily from the destruction of homes and infrastructure as well as firefighting expenses.
The 2018 wildfire season overtook 2017 as the most expensive. The two years together caused an unprecedented $40bn of damage.
According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California destroyed more than 18,500 structures and cost an estimated $15bn.
The study found that wildfires hurt communities, the economy, human health and the environment long after the fire is out. Reduced air quality, increasing eye and respiratory illnesses, contaminated drinking water, increased likelihood of flooding and landslides, as well as disrupted energy and electricity supplies and transmission, all contribute to such costs.
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'Apocalyptic scenes' in Oregon
About one in ten Oregon residents have been told to evacuate, the New York Times reported Friday.
The National Weather Service announced that a massive cloud of smoke will spread across Washington state. The NWS Seattle office said air quality “deteriorated” overnight, with some areas in the “hazardous category” at 5am and others “creeping towards very unhealthy”.
The service tweeted a picture of the smoke descending on the area
From southern Oregon, meanwhile, Reuters reports on…
… an apocalyptic scene of burned residential subdivisions and trailer parks stretched for miles along Highway 99 south of Medford through Phoenix and Talent, one of the worst hit areas.
Blazes jumped from wildfires burning through scrub and forest to suburban firestorms as flames jumped from house to house.
Online video from the Tacoma, Washington, area showed fires starting in a residential area and setting homes ablaze, and locals running from house to house to warn neighbors.
“Everybody out, everybody out,” a man screamed as firefighters tried to douse flames.
19 dead, 3.1m acres burned this year in California fires
Washington firefighter: ‘Facebook is an absolute cesspool of misinformation right now’
Misinformation about the source of the wildfires raging across the Pacific north-west is spreading rapidly on social media, prompting public officials to plead with the public to stop sharing rumors.
“We are inundated with questions about things that are FAKE stories,” the sheriff’s office in Jackson county, Oregon, wrote on Facebook Thursday afternoon. “Rumors make the job of protecting the community more difficult,” the office added.
“Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” the Douglas county sheriff’s office posted on Facebook on Thursday.
Fear grips Molalla, Oregon – as vigilantes patrol
Our contributor reports from Molalla, Oregon, where, he writes, “as in other western towns, fear, uncertainty and disinformation gripped [the town] ahead of the evacuation”.
In preceding days, Facebook pages associated with the town were filled with rumors of looters and Antifa raids. On its Facebook page overnight, Molalla PD was forced to amend a call for residents to report suspicious activity.
“This is about possible looters, not antifa or setting of fires”, the edit read. “There has been NO antifa in town as of this posting at 02am. Please, folks, stay calm and use common sense.”
The effects of this disinformation were dangerously evident on the ground.
On Thursday afternoon, three journalists were confronted by men with AR15s and summarily ordered to leave Molalla. One of them, Sergio Olmos, who was on assignment for Oregon Public Broadcasting, said the orders were given by the men, who were apparently civilians, without explanations or identification.
Further afield, other men with similar sympathies appeared to be on patrol. Although few vehicles were left in Mulino save those belonging to emergency services, on the trip there, and again on back roads en route to Oregon city, men in trucks bearing thin blue line flags – a badge of membership for rightwing movements – were observed in states of hyper-vigilance.
Some appeared to be noting the faces and number plates of passers-by. Others sent horn honks and supportive gestures towards trucks bearing similar regalia.
Good morning …