Massive Fires Near our Home, Plus Covid-19, Plus Really Weird Politics

I glanced out our window Wednesday and saw a massive plume of smoke looming over the mountains. If fire came over the ridge, Peggy and I were packing up and getting out. Fires can travel fast! (Photo from Peggy’s iPhone.)

It’s a bit hard to focus on my Great Race series. 

On Tuesday, our whole county was on a Level 1 fire alert, “Dangerous fires are lurking in the area.’ Level 2 is ‘Pack what you need and prepare to leave.’ Level 3 is ‘Get out now.’ The sheriff’s office called to urge everyone in the county to stay off the roads unless they were being evacuated. Portions of Ashland and Medford plus all of the communities of Talent and Phoenix were under a Level 3 alert. I-5, the major north-south freeway for the West Coast had been closed near Ashland. Truckers had abandoned their big rigs on the road.

We had started our morning with a power outage. Extreme winds were playing havoc with the power grid in Oregon as well as creating extreme fire danger. I walked up to where we park Quivera, our small RV, and brought her down to the house. At a minimum we could make coffee. At maximum we could power up the van’s generator and turn on the air conditioner.  Temperatures around here have been soaring over 100 degrees F. Fortunately, the power was back on around 10 AM. I quickly filled the bathtub so we would have an emergency supply of water. We have our own well and pump. No power, no water, no toilet. Quivera works in a pinch— and then there is the mountain side. Years of backpacking have trained us. Our shovel is handy…

At about two, we saw a huge plume of smoke southeast of our home boiling up above the mountains where Peggy and I had backpacked two years ago. We watched nervously and discussed putting together our emergency evacuation packet of necessities and a few treasures— like Bone and Eeyore (grin). If the flames topped the mountains we’d be out of here. Bye, bye. The fires can move at incredible speeds. Where we’d go was something of a question since so many areas in California and Oregon are burning. But with Quivera, at least we would have our vacation home with us.

The plume was back yesterday. I did a quick internet search and discovered it was the Slater Fire that had started in Northern California on Monday night. It has now crossed the border into Oregon and burned over 120,000 acres. Fortunately for us (not so much for others), it is not moving in our direction. So far. 

This is what the plume looked like on the other side of the ridge. A person took this photo near the Seiad Valley. Peggy and I backpacked into it on the PCT 2 years ago.

We are used to fire danger in our area since our home borders on national forest land. Four years ago, we had to evacuate under a level 3 alert. Towns and cities have always seemed safer. Not this time. Talent and Phoenix, which had been under the level 3 alert, were devastated on Tuesday night. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, including possibly our doctor’s office. National news coverage showed footage of the fire. It looked like a war zone. 

Meanwhile, the pandemic hasn’t slowed down. Jackson County which started off with one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 in the state, now has one of the highest. We’ve been moving backwards in our reopening status. Our masks won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

A chart showing our local Coronavirus rate. And we didn’t even have Sturgis!

And then there is the incredibly weird political situation America finds itself in. I cringe each time I read the news. Each day there are new revelations on the national level. And then there is the local scene. Peggy and I were at the Bi-Mart in Medford on Monday doing our weekly shopping when a guy came in wearing a Trump mask. He asked the woman checking people in if the store carried ammunition for his assault rifle. Who knows what his motivations were, but we kept our distance. Have I mentioned that these are scary times? 

A halloween Trump mask very similar to the one the man was wearing in Bi-Mart as he looked for ammunition.

NEXT POST: I’ll get back to the Great Race— assuming the fires, Covid-19, and all of the scary people out there behave.

68 thoughts on “Massive Fires Near our Home, Plus Covid-19, Plus Really Weird Politics

  1. I’ve been in touch with Lavinia at Salmon Brook Farms in OR. She gave me an interactive fire map so I can keep track of what’s going on.
    Our news gives us statistics while they show us the beautiful images of sunsets and sunrises those horrific fires are creating. Sort of mixed messages, ya know?

    • I looked up Salmon Brook Farms, G. It’s located in Sweet Home in the Willamette Valley where my grandmother and uncle lived for quite some time.
      Just about anywhere you go in Oregon now (or California) has its own fire story to tell— and watch out for.
      Smoke almost always enhances sunrises and sunsets. I’ve caught some beauties over the years. Beyond that, not many positive messages, however. 🙂 Hope all is well with you in the great state of Florida. Covid-19 was hitting pretty hard when Peggy and I drove through there in July! –Curt

      • I’ve been watching the fire map and both fires seem to be closing in on them. She said her relocation center is in Albany.
        Palm Beach County is still behind the rest of the state in opening up. I haven’t changed my routine in 6 months. If we ever do go back to normal, I wonder if I’ll still be able to? 😴

      • I suspect that fires, hurricanes and other weather based phenomena will be part of our new normality whatever it is, G. Hopefully we can get the pandemic behind us. And the really weird politics. 🙂 What the world truly needs now are some visionary leaders who can see further into the future than the next election. –Curt

  2. Hard to put a ‘like’ to this one, but know the situation you’re describing all too well. Two years ago the Chetco fire had us pretty close to evacuation orders, but luckily the winds shifted and we escaped any danger other than ash and embers.

    Yesterday (Wednesday) morning I looked out to a scene that seemed to have us inside a Halloween pumpkin. The sky was that unearthly dark orange. Very spooky. We drove up to Langlois for our supply of farm veggies where the skies were quite a bit lighter than at home. This morning, there’s still some smoke but far lighter than the day before.

    Do stay safe and well… both of you! We are checking our ‘ready bags’ and E is putting the camper back on the pickup. But still hoping for the best. It’s all beyond unsettling at this point.

    We seriously could use some rain.

    • Thinking about the Chetco fire, the Slater fire is heading up into the Illinois Valley. Hopefully, it won’t just keep going in your direction.
      We haven’t our world bathed in red color like you and the Bay Area just did, Gunta, but the guy in the Trump mask had a Halloween feel to it.
      Our place is now blanketed in smoke.Peggy and I aren’t budging from our house. Even in here it smells like smoke a bit. And we have a relatively air-tight home.
      Quivera and our truck are ready to top if necessary. If we hit a level 2 we will be packing up. Peggy has been going over our list.
      Stay safe, my friend. –Curt

      • We’ve been keeping an eye on that Slater fire, but we’re north of Pistol River so hoping that the Chetco burn area runs interference. But still preparing to get out of Dodge should things start looking dicey. Looking at the wildfire map we could head to the farm in Langlois or with friends in Coquille. Hard to believe how much of the state is burning. Seems as though staying close to the coast might be a good option. Could get a bit crowded though.

        Laughter is definitely a good survival strategy.

      • Peggy and I have been wondering when the national forests will reach the point that so much has burned down that there is nothing left to burn… And isn’t that a scary thought.
        Our RV (and attitude) gives us the freedom to move just about anywhere. We really love where we live but reality may deal us a different hand.
        And just keep laughing. 🙂 –Curt

  3. I hope you guys continue to stay out of the fire’s path. It’s just been awful. Luckily we are safe too ❤ Sending mental hugs your way – may we all work together and get through these tough times.

    • No picnic in Southern California, either MB. That’s for sure. These raging fires have seemed to become a part of our life. Hugs and concerns right back to you and your family. Take care, and thanks. –Curt

    • There are a lot of parallels between Australia and the US now, Gerard. And none of them particularly good as far as I can see. I do know there are good things, however. Hang in there Gerard and take care. As we will. –Curt

    • Thanks Molly. And you are right,. These fires have become an annual event. We now consider them our fifth season of the year. And, yes. The world is a dangerous place now. More dangerous than it has been in a long time. –Curt

  4. I found the interactive Jackson County evacuation maps, and have been keeping up with the various fires that way. I also came across a half-hour video of a helicopter flyover of the Almeda fire area posted by your Sheriff’s office on September 8. Even for someone not familiar with the area, there are things that are easily identifiable: I-5, and retardant patches come to mind.

    I’ll say this — all this map perusing has given me a pretty good sense of where you’re located. I sure do hope you’re not directly threatened by any fires, and that the smoke recedes.

    • We really appreciated your call, Linda. Thank you.
      The smoke has settled in outside now, like a heavy coastal fog. We can see a couple of hundred yards, at most. I suspect its from the Devil’s fire, named after Devil’s Peak where it originated, possibly as an off-shoot of the Slater Fire. It’s situated up near the headwaters of the Applegate River and dropping smoke into the valley. Hopefully, it will stay up there. The last I read they are letting it burn since they don’t have enough firefighters to send that way.
      We zipped into Medford yesterday. Really strange there. Our store had the most people we have ever seen it, buying water, among other necessities.
      Once things have calmed down, we will drive over to Talent and Phoenix. I am curious as to whether my great, great grandmother’s grave survived. I suspect it did. She was a tough old gal who came west in a wagon train.
      No evacuation orders here, but Peggy and I have been getting ready just in case. We’ve been through several of these fires now and only had to evacuate once. It’s kind of like you with hurricanes. Thanks again. –Curt

  5. Oh I’m so concerned for you both! Stay safe. I know you are both incredibly resilient people but it must be really unsettling to live in such circumstances – the fires, the temperatures, Covid, and the general unrest in the country. It’s a lot.
    Be well. Stay safe.

    • Much appreciated, Alice. It’s kind of like three strikes. Any one would be more than enough to cope with. But we are doing fine, all things considered. Having a buddy like Peggy makes all of the difference. In between being concerned, we laugh a lot. –Curt

  6. Praying for rain on the west coast. I have family in the Bay Area. Fires in Oregon created the same kind of Martian sunsets when I was visiting a few years ago. Breathing was a job in itself.
    And that man in the Trump mask shouldn’t be allowed in the store…wasn’t there a movie where a gang of bank robbers disguised themselves with rubber presidents masks? That poor woman who had to check him in. Strange times indeed 😷

    • Yes, rain! We may get some next week. Our fingers and toes are crossed.
      The smoke has settled in around our house now and visibility is limited to a couple of hundred yards. Breathing is indeed a challenge. We are staying inside!
      The mask bit was just weird, as well as scary. Thanks. –Curt

  7. Stay safe, Leave as soon as you’re nervous–don’t wait for mandatory evacuation. I did my years of California fires…Oakland in 91, Sonoma County 2009, I remember the weird skies and the blood red sun. I’m glad to have moved east, but many friends remain — many evacuated or homeless now.

  8. Oh my goodness curt. Scary times on so many levels for you. We watch the news of the fires in the western US with shock and horror. Glad to know you have your line in the forest when you know it is time to get out. As to your politics I am doing my best not to read any of it. We send our best wishes to you and Peggy and hoping this finds you safe.

    • Laughing about the politics, although it is anything but funny, Sue. We try to limit our reading as well, while staying informed and thinking only two more months! If it goes badly, we are going to come and live with you and Dave. Grin.
      We’ve become old hands at preparing for fires. Our philosophy is to make sure we are safe, 1, gather what is essential, 2, and carry out out ‘treasures,’ 3, if we end up on the wrong end of one of the fires with 3 being optimal if there is time. Ultimately it’s all stuff but I would miss our library. Thanks to you and Dave for your concerns. Much. –Curt

      • You have an excellent attitude about the fires and have a solid strategy. Things are missed but they are just objects in the end.
        We seem to have quite the reservation queue for moving to Canada. Always room for more. We are certainly hoping for good results and that you will come to Canada for a visit rather than the need to flee. Our door is always open.

  9. Curt, we’ve been worried about you and Peggy with all the fires in your area. It sounds like you’ve got a good plan and I know you’ll be careful. The one fire lesson we learned when we lived in Oregon and Florida was the ability of fire to spread through tree tops and jump highways is astounding. Glad to know that Bone and Eeyore are top priority. 🙂 Stay safe, Terri

    • Thanks, Terri. Hopefully, the fires stays away. They have done extensive damage here, both to peoples homes and lives. We’ve been lucky but aren’t taking chances. Peggy and I are reviewing our A and B evacuations plans. A is being caught by a Level 3 and grabbing what’s critical and getting out. B assumes a Level 1 and 2 warnings where we will pack our RV and truck with what we find most valuable to us and then get out if we have to. Hopefully we will be faced with none of the above options. –Curt

  10. I was just thinking of you and Peggy and wondering how close the fires were to you. 😦 I’m so glad to hear that you’re safe for the time being- we’re hunkering down from smoke up here, but nothing too close. I’m praying for rain, and for safety for everyone involved in this craziness! Take care, Curt.

    • Thanks so much, Anne. Likewise I’ve been concerned about my friends in the Portland area. So many things to contend with it has to get better, right. And now we temporarily have the world’s worst air pollution. 🙂 Do take care. –Curt

  11. So intense Curt, and if the threat of fire were not enough there is Covid and people behaving in ways that feel unsafe! And yes, we are seeing how fast these fires can move. May you continue to be safe. Seems like your steady steed Quivera is a wonderful and reassuring resource to have right now.

    • Quivera is neighing pretty loudly about another road trip, Arati! I told my friend, Andrew, in Great Britain that I would head out into the wilderness for the peace it always brings but it is burning down.
      Certainly, your neck of the woods doesn’t seem all that better than ours. I chuckled a bit when I saw your picture of the smoke. That’s pretty much what we have to take photos of, now. –Curt

  12. Crazy times. I don’t think the fire danger is quite so dire in Portland, but the air quality index just went blowing past the bad news end of the scale. Hopefully that’ll clear up reasonably soon, rain is due in Monday night.

    As far as the loonies, well, we’ve got ’em coming from both sides of the asylum. Thankfully that bit is limited to a couple parts of town, but it’s getting old. At least most folks are sensible about wearing masks in public. (Which doesn’t at all mean what it would have a year ago…)

    Good luck down there, and be safe.

    • Level 1 here today, Dave, for the whole county. Again. So far the fires are still at least 10 miles away from where we live. They’ve been closer 3-4 times since we moved here! Like Portland, the air quality is about as bad as it gets. We are supposed to go to Florence tomorrow but don’t know if we will under the fire threat. I’d love to go experience some of that promised rain and relatively clean air, however.
      As for loonies, t’is the season, I guess. And poor Portland, one of the nation’s greatest cities, has become a prime gathering spot.
      Thanks. And you be safe as well. –Curt

  13. On 1st January 2000 we asked each other to make predictions. At my turn I did not include…

    Wearing a face mask to walk the streets
    No air travel or holidays
    Leaving the EU
    Destroying our heritage after BLM
    Donald Trump and Boris Johnson

    Stay safe Curt!

    • No evacuation yet, Kelly. But we have escaped the horrendous air pollution by heading over to Florence on the coast for a few days. The advantage of a small RV and being retired. It’s supposed to rain here for the next three days and may even make it to our area. Fire season is far from over, however. Who know what will happen? Thank you. –Curt

  14. Hello Curt.

    In my country we have seldom forest fires and due to this your post was interesting reading. When I was young man a flash burnt our home house. We lost everything! So, I can understand how dangerous these fires are. Stay safe – you and others!

    Have a good day!

  15. Sorry to just now be reading this post, but really sorry you are enduring so much. Glad you know what to pack and how to fill up your tub. In addition, fighting fires and corona virus ranks right up there with fighting the scary thought of having four more years of Trump at the top. Bless you and Peggy. Please send updates when you can.

    • Thanks so much, Rusha. These are tough times for all of us. Ben Franklin’s statement, “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately,” comes to mind. The nation desperately needs forward thinking, creative leadership that pulls us together and allows us to focus on the problems facing the nation and our world. –Curt

  16. I struggle to rank the three horrors. I am thankful we don’t have fires in Texas (but we did flood again in Houston this week), and I’ve had a very small taste (and smell) of the Colorado fires that are sending their awful smoke into the Denver area where I’ve been for the last month. But still, nothing like the terrible uncertainty and worry you must feel with the fires so close.

    Sending good wishes that you both stay safe from fires and viruses, and that our third problem goes away in the next few months!

    • I have to confess, Lexi, the third problem worries me more than the other two combined.
      We can deal with global warming and pandemics. 🙂
      Thanks for you concerns. Peggy and I have done what we can to fireproof our property. And, as Peggy says, if the house burns down we will just buy a new RV and hit the open road! –Curt

  17. That is a really scary view from your house. I’m not sure which I would prefer: your view, which gives you a heads up but is scary, or my view of a wall of trees, which doesn’t give me a heads up, but there is nothing scary to see on the horizon because I can’t see the horizon. These days, I’m so used to the word “mask” meaning the thing I have over my nose and mouth, that when you wrote that someone was wearing a Trump mask, I assumed you meant the kind I’m wearing, only it was red and said MAGA. Oh! A Trump MASK! Yikes, what a weirdo. I would have given that person space, too.

    • I’ll take the scary, Crystal. 🙂 Normally, it is nothing but beautiful. It is heart stopping every time we see clouds of smoke boiling up on the horizon. We are still getting smokey days from the Slater fire. Not nearly as bad.
      Yep, the Trump mask was scarier than the smoke boiling up on the horizon! Nature vs Nasty.

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