Two Oregon Towns Destroyed… The Price of Global Warming

I went for a drive Saturday through the small towns of Talent and Phoenix, Oregon. It was heart-rending. Today’s post features photos of the devastation caused by the Almeda Fire.
I found this sign just across the road from the above photo.

When Donald Trump came to California two weeks ago to comment on the devastation caused by raging wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington, he was asked about the impact of global warming on the fires. Here is his response:

Well, I don’t think science knows, actually… When trees fall down after a short period of time, they become very dry — really like a matchstick… And they can explode. Also leaves. When you have dried leaves on the ground, it’s just fuel for the fires… It’s a management issue… It’ll start getting cooler… You just watch.

Peggy and I don’t buy the ‘It’ll start getting cooler” argument, but we do take forest management seriously. We spent $20,000 this past year doing what we could to fireproof our property. And it didn’t involve ‘sweeping the floor’ as the President recommended a couple of years ago, cleaning up the leaves and fallen branches. We had forty, 80-100 foot trees cut down on our five-acres removed. They were dead as in d.e.a.d. Ten years ago when we moved in, they were happy and healthy. The years of drought and excessive heat killed them. As it has millions of trees across the west. Yes, good forest management is important, but all the management in the world will not save forests when draught combines with 100° F heat, high winds and fire. Nor will it save towns, as Talent and Phoenix learned.

Peggy and I prepare for fire, obviously. We live in a forest. Fire comes with the territory. We spend countless hours working outside and doing what we can to reduce the danger. But we are also prepared to vacate the premises, to ‘get out of Dodge,’ to skedaddle! When a level two warning is issued, we will be packed and out of here. Forget level three. We have lists. Things are organized so we can grab and go. The greater the danger the less we will grab. Quivera the RV is packed and ready right down to clothes, tooth brushes and tooth paste, everything we need to live. If our house burns down, it will be sad, but not tragic. “We’ll just buy a new RV (sorry Quivera) and hit the road,” Peggy says.

People who live in towns and cities have different expectations. Homes burn down, yes, but not towns. Back before all of the codes designed to prevent fires were adopted and before modern fire departments came into being, they did. But not today. Except they do. Ask the residents of Talent and Phoenix, or Santa Rosa, or Paradise or numerous other small towns and cities that have been caught in the paths of raging fires over the past few years.

Peggy and I know the communities of Phoenix and Talent well. I was born in Ashland where the fire started. Until recently, our doctor’s office was in Talent. (It still stands about 200 yards away from where I took the top photo.) One of my great grandfathers and a great, great grandmother are buried in Phoenix. She came across the country in a wagon train. I fear, but don’t know for sure, that the graveyard was wiped out.

The fire came on fast and ferocious. So fast that people were literally running down the street, leaving everything behind. “It came like a huge wave,” an 82 year old woman stated. A man reported that he had been working when he heard the first warning. He dropped what he was doing, jumped in his truck, and broke speed limits heading for his home so he could save his cat. He was too late.

My Saturday drive was heart-rending as I looked at the devastation. The following photos capture just a small portion of what I saw.

Some areas were totally devastated. This photo and the following two close ups give an idea of the furnace-like heat of the fire.
Note how the roof here was literally melted. Also, I am amazed that the propane containers didn’t blow up. Safety valves must have released the gas and allowed it to burn off.
Like in most of the fire damage, it is difficult to determine exactly what you are looking at. You can spot a seat in the cab of this vehicle and a large saw blade.
This photo gives an example of just how totally things were destroyed.
Here, a chimney was left standing.
A burned out car was in front of the chimney. I rendered it in black and white. Shades of grey were how I felt.
Here’s the car by itself.
And how about this truck.
I thought this photo was interesting in that it showed a totally destroyed car but in the background is a Rite Aid the fire didn’t touch. I parked my truck in front of the store. It was open and doing business. It has always amazed me how a fire will destroy one property and not touch the one next to it.
A boat that will never sail again…
A bed mattress that will never be slept on…
A child’s wagon that will never be pulled…
A tool box with tools that will never be used…
And a doorway to nowhere…
Wasn’t sure what this was but it looked a little evil to me, like what we can expect from global warming…
And this was simply sad.
I will use this car lot for my final photo of the damage done by the fire that ravaged Talent and Phoenix. It came on fast and furious, torching anything that got in its path. There was no time to move these cars. There was barely time to get out and survive.

Global warming is real. Extreme weather will not go away by denying its existence, or by claiming “It will get cooler.” Fires will continue to rage, hurricanes will become more frequent and more powerful, polar ice will melt and the seas will rise. Expect more floods, droughts, tornadoes and other types of extreme weather. We owe it to ourselves, children, grandchildren and future generations to do everything humanly possible on a national and international level to reverse this trend. Playing ostrich and burying our heads in the sand is not the answer.

53 thoughts on “Two Oregon Towns Destroyed… The Price of Global Warming

  1. I hesitated to click like but I want to support your view regarding forest management. Our coastal home is in a forest and we have spent years managing its surrounds. Climate change has dealt Australia a severe blow too, with forests burning that have never burned before. In fact, thought impossible to burn.

    • I remember your stories, Peggy. We face a similar challenge. Your statement about forests burning ‘thought impossible to burn,’ is a powerful testimony to the reality of global warming. Take care. –Curt

  2. Very sad to see and it touched me somewhat personally. My stepson lived in South Medford and the trailer park he lived in was completely torched. He told me that there was a knock at the door and he wasn’t even allowed to go back to grab ANYTHING. He literally escaped with what he was wearing. He sent me pictures of his cameras and lenses… hardly recognizable. Literally everything gone. He was the keeper of the family pictures. Luckily, I had some for backup, so we’ll be able to restore part of the collection at the very least.

    The youngest stepkid lived in Talent, but had moved to Idaho. Oddly enough his house was one of the very few still standing intact. A bit freaky what was destroyed and what survived. Seems utterly random. (As in your Rite Aid shot.)

    I’ve been a touch worried about you. Glad you’re OK. We pretty much follow the same preparedness routine. How bad has the smoke been? We’re still getting a bit from the Slater/Devil fires down south, but nothing like that first week when the Rogue Valley was burning.

    • So sorry to hear about your stepson, Gunta, but I am glad he made it out and you included his story. It is a powerful testimony to how fast that fire moved.
      Weird, that’s how I would describe the way fires seem to jump around, totally destroying one property while not touching one next to it.
      We’re fine and have been lucky. So far. The smoke is still hanging in here. It seems like it is going away and then it’s back, as thick as ever. That’s the case right now. The Slater and Devil fires are responsible for our smoke as well. –Curt

  3. Curt, the devastation left in the wake of the fire is so sad and painful to see. But thanks to people like you, we ARE seeing it. Once seen, we can’t stick our heads in the sand and deny the scientific facts. The steps that you and Peggy have been taking to address fire management around your property are so admirable – and an example to everyone who loves the forest the way you two do. ~Terri

    • Appreciated, Terri. The tragic devastation serves as a wake-up call. I only hope we can hear it and move toward a different future than the one pre-ordained by global warming. –Curt

  4. Curt,
    I feel so bad for those people, just as I feel bad for the PTSD close friends who were burned out by the Camp Fire in Paradise as couple years ago must be feeling now.
    I believe there is global climate change but I also believe it is poor science to blame the events of any one year on it.
    You and Peggy recognize the value of forest management as a contributor to the problem. Unfortunately, certain Environmentalists in Oregon and California have blocked efforts to do as you did on a broad scale by the government. I understand their distrust of the current Administration, but they are equally blind as they deny and/or postpone “forest management.”
    The words of a politician I heard back in the 70s still ring true: “For every problem there is a solution that is simple, easy and wrong.” Most issues are complex.

    • First, thanks, Ray. I always appreciate your thoughtful contributions.
      I wouldn’t worry as much if this was a one time event. We’ve now come to think of August and September as a fifth season. Fire season. We even plan our outings to be away from the area as much as possible during those months. So far we have been lucky, but you may recall that we had to evacuate three years ago as the fires came down off the mountains a mile away from where we live.
      Interestingly, the environmentalist are working with the forest service and the timber industry in Southern Oregon to come up with wiser ways of managing our forests. So far, it hasn’t stopped the fires. We can only hope.
      The main culprit in creating forests filled with downed debris is Smoky Bear, not environmentalists. I’ve blogged on this before. Our dedication to preventing forest fires was a major factor in the vast accumulation of downed wood in forests. Regular fires used to clean them out. We have been gradually heading back in that direction. I’ve been in support of forest fire ecology since the 70s.
      I could go on and on but I won’t. 🙂
      There is a logging company in Chester, Ca. that gets my vote for being the best logging company in the world. It takes down trees, selectively, leaves old growth trees standing, leaves a variety of trees standing (critical to a healthy forest), and has a large machine that goes through the forest after a logging operation and that chips all the downed wood which is then used in an energy generating plant. All this and it makes a profit. And, it’s forest hasn’t burned down yet! Again, thanks. –Curt

    • I like the analogy, Steve. In a way, we are involved in a war now, a war for the type of future we want. I believe we are facing perilous times, but I also believe we can make a difference, that a brighter future is possible. Thanks. –Curt

  5. Great and such devastating pictures with words put so well to them Curt! You have done a lot to protect your property instead of wait until it gets cooler.. A lot of good that does for those that lost so much. I drive through some of the same devastation and Have watched the rebuild only to see it destroyed again. Soooo sad!! 👍👏👍👍 ❤️Cindy

    • I think people are beginning to understand, Alison. It’s hard not to given the extreme weather we are witnessing. And from understanding, hopefully there will come action and support for action.
      On the other hand, people’s ability for denial and rationalization is pretty incredible. –Curt

  6. We’re doing the same thing in the woods we live in – clearing the understory of fallen trees, cutting off the lower branches that are also dead.

    We’re in a rather unique situation here in the prairie provinces of Canada in that a warming climate is expected to make winters a bit shorter, frost free summers a bit longer, with more precipitation. All in all, less heating days, more growing days.

      • Nature works in mysterious ways. Man still needs to learn when not to touch … having said that, yes, we are trimming from the six foot level down. It doesn’t take more than a season for nature to move in with wild flowers once the sunlight is restored.

    • Appreciated, Kelly. Seriously. But this older white male (while wholeheartedly supporting Biden) is rooting for someone younger to step up to the plate. 🙂 Women and folks of color welcome! Speak out, I can, however. –Curt

  7. We suffer from flooding which doesn’t seem nearly as scary as it’s more slow moving and things can dry out. Fires in the hills/mountains nearby aren’t so bad at the moment either. Your photo documentary of the devastation near you shows a fraction of what went on. Deeply worrying and nothing a good broom will ever solve.

  8. These fires are devastating, no one can argue with that. But this planet has gone from super hot to under ice time and time again. I know humans have done wonders to speed warming up, like helping to destroy the ozone layer – which incidentally has improved somewhat with the virus lockdown. Maybe we can learn from that.

    • Laughing, at least a bit, G. I think that there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from the pandemic and global warming. Having spent the last 50 years of my life as a public health and environmental advocate, I dearly hope we can learn this lessons and put them to work for us. Thanks. –Curt

  9. Be nimble. Enjoy the moment, but be ready to run. Carry the things most important to you in your heart and your memory. Be safe. This is the future. We brought it on. Unless we gear up to change, we can only expect things to get worse, wilder, more chaotic and dangerous.

    Or…you can go out and rake the forest, because, yeah, sure, that’ll protect you.

  10. Thank you for posting these pictures. I don’t think I have a feel for the personal impact of the fires until now, and it’s devastating. It will take years to rebuild. We had fires in the Great Smoky Mountains that were also horrible. But I’ve been watching Mother Nature for a couple of years now re-carpet the forest. The effect on people is not so easily covered up.

    • At least we would like to think so, Dave. I will note that a bipartisan group from Oregon’s Senators and Congress visited the area and promised to work together to provide aid. I figure a Bi-partisan anything in this day and age is a step forward! –Curt

  11. Thank you for posting this information. It is sometimes difficult in the UK to appreciate what else goes on in the world. The trouble is trying to get an overview. All is peace and calm and beauty in one place, whilst fire, death and destruction are in another.

    I don’t understand though why people get het up about global warming, as opposed to concentrating on industrialization and pollution. Vehicle emissions are still awful despite warm words from politicians – I think all the hot air generated by them more a contributing factor!

    Seriously, trees have been damaged and killed by our ignorance and greed. Air pollutants are the main problem, plus the decimation of wildlife that will eat the grubs and insects that can cause infections. In the UK, the Dutch Elm disease is clearly due to severe reduction in the woodpecker population.

    Clearly woodland management is vital, and we have been all too careless in that. But if the planet warms up then we should need less energy if the winters are warmer. And we should then use less fuel and emit less CO2. We love our centrally heated homes, but if we were more active we would warm our bodies up and have less need for such heating.

    We really should focus on eliminating pollution which is killing the trees, whilst managing the forests as best we can.

    P.S. Love the photos I have seen on some of your other posts.

    • Thanks. Appreciated. I spent my career fighting air pollution so I couldn’t agree more. But here’s the good part: Getting air pollution under control is the best thing we can do to reduce global warming! –Curt

  12. Powerful, striking images which along with your words underscore the urgency to escalate our efforts in dealing with global warming. Thank you for posting this.

  13. Oh Curt, thank you for sharing this. All of this makes me sooo very sad, I can hardly stand it. How on earth do some people not believe global warming is a thing?? An ex-friend and I had a discussion about it once…he presented facts to support that it is an issue, yet, he doesn’t see it that way. One more reason there is an “ex” there.

    • You are welcome. Given the overwhelming evidence, it is almost impossible for me to fathom how somebody can claim global warming does not exist. But then lots of people (approximately 42%) believe things I find it impossible to understand. 🙂 –Curt

  14. Profoundly sad … and after that, frustration-inducing. Even if we had a good leader, we need to convince so many other deniers of what is happening. Hell, even the new Supreme Court nominee couldn’t bring herself to say that humans were at least part of the cause of climate change. Aarrgghh! Thanks for sharing this; it was not fun to see and read, but oh so necessary to put out there.

    • It’s doubly frustrating to me Lexi since I spent a significant chunk of my life fighting for clean air starting in the 70s. Had we as a nation/world given more credence to environmental efforts then, we might have been able to avoid or significantly reduce global warming. I am in total agreement with “Aarrgghh!” Maybe our nation can chart a wiser course going into the future. So many things need attention. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. As a general rule, I avoid politics on my blog, mainly because it is a travel blog. This doesn’t mean I don’t care. I spent most of my life fighting for public health and environmental issues. –Curt

  15. You make such an important point here, Curtis. That responsible forest management is important, yes, but like all things in life, the issue is not simple. There is not one single action that will solve the problem. Forest management, yes, but also with climate management through pollution control, as alpha and omega says above. People want so badly to believe in +/- and yes/no and black/white… but the world is never that simple. These images are devastating. Thank you for taking the time to visit those towns and bring us the photos. ❤

    • Complicated hardly begins to describe it, Crystal! And we have the two challenges yolk described: acting to control global warming while figuring out how to better protect ourselves in the meantime.
      After I drove through Phoenix and Talent, I simply had to do a post… –Curt

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