Wildfires and Resilience

Growing up in dry southern Oregon, I spent many hot Augusts and Septembers with smoky skies and red suns. My step father managed land that was afflicted by fire every year. We hardly saw him during fire season due to his long days and nights. People lost homes, livelihoods and even sometimes, their lives.

When I grew up, my family moved up to the Portland area in 2000. I forgot about fire season except for the occasional news report until 2017 during the Eagle Creek Fire. We live at the mouth of the Columbia Gorge with the strong East Wind. Those winds moved the fire 20 miles in a day. Our town was put on Level 1. Here are what the levels mean:

I remember making the phone call to ask my out of state if there was anything she wanted me to pack, that she didn’t want to lose.  All my family and friends were worried yet I was calm. Walking through the house and realizing how little I cared about taking was eye-opening.

Fire Evacuation Level 1 Be ready Monitor the news. Pack a Go Bag.

Fire Evacuation Level 2 Be set to go at a moment’s notice. Or go now.

Fire Evacuation Level 3 GO! Leave immediately.

Thankfully the wind slowed. The fire was eventually contained. There was permanent damage and yet we were thankful. Some trails and areas are still closed and may never open. Driving out I-84 along the Columbia River the first time after the fire was emotional. Sight of standing charred trees and downed burnt logs brought tears to my eyes. Gratitude for the many firefighters who had toiled dangerously to save this beautiful place filled my heart.

Today the resilience of the flora is seen. Only a few areas were completely burned. Many trees caught fire but didn’t die. Plants and trees are growing again out of the black ground. Fireweed is among the first plants to grow after a fire. A dear friend taught me to make tea out of its flowers and leaves this year.

That same mixture of sadness and gratitude fills me today when I look online at the many friends and family from around the state who are on Levels 3, 2 and 1. I realize how my loved ones felt when they were waiting for word that my family and home would be ok.

I am concerned for people’s safety, property, livelihoods and mental health. Knowing what is going on in your area  is important for the first three. Staying tuned to local radio or getting alerts is critical. As far as so. If you must, please practice self-care afterwards. Simple things like deep breaths, drinks of water through a straw or hugs (self-hugs are great too).

If you have children and are impacted by the wildfires, tell them what they need to know in a way they can understand. Try to keep a loose structure to your day. Remember during 9-11, children thought their communities were in danger because of constant replaying of buildings falling on the news. Children may get the idea that the fires are everywhere and uncontrollable if all they see are fire related images and stories.

Click here for a great resource for how to support your child before, during and after a wildfire.

Click here for an App called Help Kids Cope. It “helps parents talk to their kids about the disasters they may face and know how best to support them throughout.”

Click here for information about preparing for a wildfire

Dear friends, know what is going on in your area. Stay safe. As much as you can, limit your stress and protect your children from its harmful effects.  The winds will slow. The fires will eventually be contained. Resilience will rise again.