Could This Become Another Unprecedented Season?

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Burned By Holiday Farm Fire
Holiday farm Wildfire Devastation | Photo by newsweek.com

Oregonians and Californians know just how bad the wildfire season was in 2020 and in our part of Oregon it was devastating. The Holiday Farm Wildfire totally destroyed the town of Blue River which had a population of about 800 people. The wildfire spread down the McKenzie River and grew to over 100,000 acres moving along Oregon 126 within just miles of the Eugene-Springfield area. As the fire pushed westward evacuation notices were issued for the Mohawk Valley north of the McKenzie river and east of Marcola Road, including Upper Camp Creek and Camp Creek Roads. Also evacuated were people living off Oregon 126 between Thurston Road at the Springfield City limits and the McKenzie Ranger Station, including all roads to the north and south of the highway.

Here is a portion of my summary of the wildfires: As of 9.13.20 there are 15 large wildfires ravaging Oregon and 15 large wildfires are burning in the state of Washington. The map below showing wildfires in Oregon and Washington is from the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center (NWCC). The descriptions detail the size of each fire, the structures threatened, and the people and equipment involved in fighting those fires.

Wildfrie map
NWCC Large Fire Map 9.13.20 | Image by NWCC

As you can easily see, both Oregon and Washington were covered with wildfires. California was also having one of its worst wildfire seasons ever, but our concern was much closer to home. The factors that set up the perfect scenario for these wildfires to spread rapidly were hot temperatures, extremely dry conditions due to lack of rain and low relative humidity, and the element that really increased wildfire spread was the hot dry wind coming from the east.

Holiday Farm fire
Holiday Farm Wildfire | Photo by around.uoregon.edu

Here are the details posted that day. The Holiday Farm fire: Located 3 miles west of McKenzie Bridge, Oregon. The number of acres involved is 165,000. The fuel/terrain is timber. It started on 9.07.20 and the cause is under investigation. Residences threatened: 23,546 single residences, Other structures threatened: 100 nonresidential commercial property. Resources being used: Total Personnel 628, 16 crews, 4 helicopters, and 35 engines. The fire is 5% contained. The lead agency listed is USDA Forest Service.

Road Closure Sign In Oregon Cascades 2020 | Photo by OSU

I’m sure you have noticed how dry everything is now. We haven’t had nearly enough rain to combat the drought conditions that continue over Oregon. An article published in Phys.org titled “Unprecedented combination of weather and drought conditions fueled Oregon’s September wildfires.” was written by Michelle Klampe from Oregon State University. The article quotes Larry O’Neill, State Climatologist with the Oregon Climate Service and Associate Professor in the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences who co-authored the paper as saying “The individual wind and humidity conditions were rare but not unprecedented, but the combination of the two was. And individually, they were some of the worst conditions we’ve seen since we began keeping records from instrumented data.” O’Neil is concerned that this summer’s conditions could actually be worse.

Larry O’Neill State Climatologist & Professor At OSU | Photo by OSU

Finally, Professor O’Neill said “Forecasters can look for that combination of easterly winds and extremely dry landscapes and know that the fire risk will be greater. That could allow for some preparation to reduce fire risk.”

Drought Monitor Map as of 5.3.21 | Image by Oregon|drought.com

According to the latest Drought Monitor map you can see the driest areas in the state and they are the biggest areas of concern for wildfires. The majority of the wildfires are caused by lightning, but the rest are mostly man-caused. That means since the conditions will be probably as bad if not worse that last year it is up to the public to be particularly careful in their dealings with fire of any kind. Particularly obey burning bans in the forests and campgrounds. We have to hope that we are spared from the lightning strikes and the carelessness of the public. If not then this will really be a long, hot, dry summer with too many wildfires.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

Tim Chuey is a Member of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association and has been Awarded Seals of Approval for television weathercasting from both organizations.

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