In the mid-summer of 2015 when all of Oregon seemed to be on fire, the view from our home of the mountains was to the north in Washington, beyond the border of the rolling Columbia River. There, above the peaks of the barren foothills, a plume of smoke from a wildfire in the Indian Heaven Wilderness rose several thousand feet above the crusty top of Underwood Mountain.
A warm wind, Sirocco-like, poured through the gorge with gusts of 20, 30, and 40 mph exploding the tinder dry Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Farther east in the Blue Mountains outside of John Day and south in the arid high desert and grasslands of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, more blazes raged out of control. Roads closed and sporadic evacuations occurred and homes were left to burn. Limited supplies of fire retardant and planes and other necessary heavy equipment added complications to the logistics of supplying Hot Shot crews and was as troublesome as the firefighting itself.
The winds ceased and mountain showers dampened portions of the fire arenas. Roads reopened and traffic flowed normally. The Hood River and its tributaries ran gray with glacial melt off of Mt. Hood, a result of the long hot summer. Irrigation districts in the valley applied restrictions on farms, which had already suffered through a poor blueberry season due to extreme heat in June. Pear orchards were healthy but the fruit was small for the fresh market and much would need to be juiced.
At night the horizons glowed with the burns and flared when a gust of wind ignited a patch of grassy fuel and the sunsets were unparrelelled with a palette of red, orange, and yellow. With the calming of the wind currents, we awoke to a pall of acrid smoke that stung our eyes and noses for several days and it settled upon the valley with a haze that obscured the mountaintops.
The evening cooled and I left my house early and walked several blocks to the hospital for my monthly clinic with Dr. L. The days had shortened but temperatures rose quickly and the hot weather continued with no rain forecast to relieve the crews fighting fire on so many fronts. And I walked back home after an unremarkable visit at the crowded infusatorium and traffic hustled along the main drag of 12th Street in Hood River and people went on their way busy with life in this, the mid-summer of 2015 when all of Oregon seemed to be on fire.