Clouds of Wildfire Smoke Are Choking Southern Oregon

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


This story first appeared on the Atlantic Cities website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

How intense are the wildfires blazing in Oregon and California? Let’s answer that question with a photo, snapped in late July by Marvin Vetter of the Oregon Department of Forestry, showing a dang-blasted “firenado” swirling above a sea of burning trees:

Lava

This example of “extreme fire behavior” (to use the forestry department’s words) went down in the Douglas Complex wildfire, one of several conflagrations turning conifers to cinders in southern Oregon. The intensity of fires in this sector of the country, which is locked in a stubborn drought, is strong enough that nearby towns and cities are getting covered with big, lung-painting plumes of ashy air.

On Tuesday evening, the state’s environmental department noted that the area around Medford (metropolitan population: 207,000) had an “unhealthy” air quality index of 151, meaning that anybody outdoors could incur “serious health effects,” according to Oregon Smoke. (That includes bees, for the honey-industry experts reading.) The cities of Klamath Falls and Bend enjoyed “moderate” pollution, and a several hours’ drive northward, Portland residents could breathe easy with “good” air quality.

On Monday, NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over to observe the supreme smokiness of the fires, sparked by lightning and suspected human activities. After noting that the fire-friendly weather is expected to worsen this month, the space agency laid out the dismal situation so far:

The fires were situated in extremely rugged terrain that hampered firefighting efforts. Approximately 3,000 firefighters were battling the Douglas Complex fires, including the National Guard. About 1,000 were fighting the Big Windy fires. The Douglas Complex was 16 percent contained as of August 6, 2013. Collectively, the two fires had burned nearly 50,000 acres (20,200 hectares).

While the fires have not yet destroyed homes, they have forced evacuations and the closure of some roads. Smoke lingered in the valleys, posing a health risk to people. To counter the smoke, the Red Cross distributed 20,000 respiration masks in southern Oregon.

On Tuesday, one young firefighter gave up his life after his water truck hit an embankment and rolled over. He was the second person to die struggling to cool down Oregon’s fiery summer.

Here’s a larger version of the Aqua image, pinpointing in red the warm spots thought to be active fires:

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate