And now, after six months of global pandemic and nearly 500 Oregonians dead, after tear gas–filled city streets and protests over police brutality that inexorably turned deadly, after the killer bees and the rabid bats, come the wildfires.
Oregon has dealt with massive wildfires before, of course, many times. Consider 2017, when the human-caused Eagle Creek fire ripped through the Columbia River Gorge, scorching thousands of treasured acres in Portland’s collective backyard and sending a thick haze of smoke and ash into the city, a physical manifestation of our collective grief. This feels different, though, given the sheer number of fires threatening not only the places where people play around the state, but also where they live, exacerbated by once-in-a-century gusty winds and extremely hot, dry conditions.
So far in Portland, ominous smoke has been creeping into the margins of the city, with fires breaking out near Fairview and Estacada, within half an hour’s drive from downtown, and all of Clackamas County under some level of evacuation alert.
Here are some ways to help, whom to follow, and what to do instead of doomscrolling and anxiously scanning the sky....
WHERE TO DONATE MONEY
Relief response is being led by the Red Cross, which has opened shelters for those fleeing fires at a handful of locations, including Thurston High School in Springfield, the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond, the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, the Kla-Mo-Ya Casino in Chiloquin, and Clackamas Community College in Oregon City. Donate to support their efforts at the KGW-backed Northwest Response Fund, which earmarks your gift to help with the response to and recovery from wildfires around the Pacific Northwest. Global Empowerment Mission is another organization that has come to town and gone directly to the affected areas to hand out cash cards and emergency supplies.
The fire crews battling the blazes around Oregon are putting themselves in particular danger this year thanks to coronavirus, as if the job were not already hazardous enough—it’s near impossible to fight wildfires while social distancing. Support the families of firefighters who have lost their lives via the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.
Since the fires began in earnest, individual GoFundMe sites have begun cropping up around social media, with stories of loss and devastation. Now, the donation site has started a centralized hub to list all the verified fundraisers started to help those who've lost businesses and homes, available here.
WHERE TO DONATE ITEMS
The Estacada Community Center is collecting items for aging and vulnerable community members affected by the fires. These donations will be disinfected and delivered to those who receive Meals on Wheels Program assistance. See their current list of essential needs and food items here.
The Pet Evacuation Team is an animal rescue station helping pets displaced and affected by the fires. They have a list of needs that ranges from folding chairs to medical supplies. If you aren't in the drop off area in Redmond, you can ship directly from their Amazon wish list to the center.
The Oregon Sierra Club has teamed up with the Rural Organizing Project, Oregon's farmworker union PCUN, and Rogue Climate for a group drive. They have a long list of donation item requests ranging from reading glasses to menstrual supplies with an emphasis needed on N95 masks, respirators, air purifiers, and diapers for adults and babies. Portlanders can drop off daily from 9AM-8PM at 1821 SE Ankeny St.
HOW TO CHECK ON LOVED ONES
If you’re trying to locate loved ones who may have fled the fires and haven’t gotten in touch yet, check the Red Cross’s “Safe and Well” app, which allows people to check in after a disaster and mark themselves as OK. Through the app, you can also sign up to donate blood.
WHO TO FOLLOW
For the most accurate and no-BS way to track the fires, stay with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center’s blog, including its terrifyingly accurate fire map, and the Twitter feed of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, which aggregates information from different fire agencies around the state. Another good resource for those who are considering venturing outside their bunkers: the Oregon Smoke Blog, which has solid intel on the air we all breathe.
Worried about animals who are affected by the flames and smoke? Learn more about the efforts of these horse lovers, as detailed in the Salem Statesman-Journal, which has lifted its paywall for fire coverage.
HOW TO PREPARE
It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: today is NOT the day to decide to have a campfire, light off fireworks, or even a barbecue. Don’t head off into the woods for a camping trip and potentially require resources to be diverted for your rescue. (The folks in charge of the Mount Hood and Willlamette National Forests made this perfectly clear when they closed the entire area to all hiking, boating and camping this week.) Plus, it's a good idea to keep roads clear for emergency vehicles. If you absolutely have to be on the road, check tripcheck.org for road closures—there are a lot of them. But really, we recommend staying home and reading up about how other bad decisions by humans have contributed to global climate that has intensified wildfires all around the Pacific Northwest.
It’s never a bad time to update your emergency kit, just in case. If you live in Clackamas County, you should pack a go-kit, just in case. (A tip from a friend who had to flee the Paradise fires in California last year: Take dirty clothes from the laundry pile, since those are probably the ones you like the best and wear the most. Plus cash, any family pictures you haven’t scanned, birth certificates, and social security cards, any family heirlooms and meaningful jewelry, and not much else.) And finally, let us all, believers or not, say a little prayer that this isn’t the month the Big One decides to cash in.
Listen to Eden Dawn, Riley Blake, and OSU professor Erica Fleishman talk about the West Coast Wildfires in this episode of Footnotes.