All of our travel plans this year got cancelled, save one – a six day mule packing trip (you hike; mules carry your stuff) on the northern edge of Yosemite National Park and in the Hoover Wilderness. What with all of the restrictions California was imposing because of the Big V, we weren’t sure even this trip would go. But California eased-up a bit and we went. We had no issues with social distancing or proper sanitation, but four days of the trip were impacted (to varying degrees) by wildfire smoke. And there was some drama involving a rescue (not us). We also didn’t know until we came out at Twin Lakes that all the national forests in California had been closed because of fire danger! But, overall, it was a good trip.
As we were being shuttled back to town from the trailhead, the driver mentioned – almost in passing – that there were huge fires in Oregon and that 10% of the population was under evacuation orders. What!?!? But he had no details to share. When we got to our hotel room and saw the “Are you OK?” emails and what was on the internet about fires in Medford, we were both appalled and scared! Then our neighbors thoughtfully texted us that our house was still standing.
Even knowing that our house wasn’t a cinder, the 6.5 hour drive home was tense. All of it was through smoke (from the many other wildfires burning in California and Oregon) so thick it was hard to see half-mile ahead. When we finally got home, we found our house ash-covered but undamaged. The same cannot be said for the 600+ homes [2,357 as of 16Sep20] in the small towns of Phoenix and Talent along Highway 99 between Medford and Ashland. They are all gone, along with many other businesses and structures. So far, five people have been reported as dead, with some still missing. 😥
As of this moment, it is suspected that all this carnage was caused by an illegal campfire along the Bear Creek Greenway. High winds blew the flames into one of the trailer parks near Ashland and then an “exceptional” wind rushed the fire north from there. Firefighters were able to stop the burn at Medford’s southern boundary. Had they not, flames could easily have engulfed Medford’s west side.
Now we’re home, immersed in thick smoke. The air quality index here is currently 300+, where 50 or less is considered healthy. This choking smoke is expected to last for several days, as there is another large fire nearby (the 30,000 acre+ South Obenchain) pouring smoke into the valley. The Alameda Fire that devastated Talent and Phoenix lasted less than two days – it was all over before we got out of the Sierras. But recovery is going to take A LOT longer.
Just when you think 2020 can’t get any worse, it throws another crisis in our faces. ENOUGH ALREADY! Let’s just save some disasters for later…much later…hopefully never. 😦HOME