Oregon 2020

It’s mid-September 2020, the tail end of the fire season and the end of the 6th month of the Covid19 (mis) adventure, at least from the western Canadian perspective.

Regardless what happens in the next month, the BC fire season is pretty much guaranteed to be a non-event from a statistical perspective. We are hovering around 610 fires, and about 13,500 hectares burned this year. Given that the averages sit at around 1800 fires and 50,000-200,000 ha burned, we are near the left tails of both of those distributions – one of the lowest years ever, in over 100 years of counting, from both the fire occurrence and area burned perspectives.

The same is not true for the western US. California is in the midst of another tragic year, with about a million hectares burned so far. Here’s a good article summarizing things, although it’s not breaking any new ground – we’ve known about the need for thinning and burning, and the effects of climate change, for at least a decade I’m sure. In the past two days, however, it’s Oregon that exploded with new fires and new huge fires.

East winds are brutal – they are the US PNW version of California’s ‘Santa Ana’ winds that cause such chaos down there. I was out in the field on the 8th when the high winds hit. On the southern tip of Vancouver Island, we could tell the strong and gusty winds from the east were bad news for the whole region.

I have very fond memories of my time playing and working hard in the Oregon Cascades, mostly 15-20 years ago. Tuesday’s (9/08) wind event was one of those ‘once in a century’ type explosive fire events that seem all too common in recent years. The news is now breaking that small towns in the Medford-Ashland corridor (Talent, Phoenix, Medford itself) had hundreds to thousands of homes burned in a single afternoon. What a tragedy for the area. I remember the area well and feel for the locals.

Here is a composite image I put together yesterday, with the MODIS and VIIRS hotspots in Google Earth overlaid with true colour MODIS/Terra imagery (from the NASA EOSDIS) showing the smoke plumes.

Canada (pretty much the whole country) got lucky this year. Hopefully we can help out our friends to the south. And let’s get on with the business of forest restoration and prescribed burning.

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