One of the great things about spending a month at a time in a different state is learning what it’s like to be a local. Each place has its own quirks that have been fun to discover. But this month’s biggest learning opportunity hasn’t been as fun: I’m discovering what it’s like to live close to a raging wildfire.
The other day I heard someone say Oregon has five seasons: winter, spring, summer, Armageddon, and fall. It has certainly looked and smelled like Armageddon in this area the past week.
Cedar Creek Fire
As you’ve probably seen or read on the news, there are a lot of wildfires in the western U.S. right now. The Cedar Creek Fire, located only about 50 miles from where I’m staying in Bend, began on August 1 when a lightning storm caused 20 to 30 new fires.
It had been under control through August and early September, but last weekend it more than doubled within 24 hours and a week later remains 0% contained. As of this writing, it’s now 93,000 acres and growing.
In fact, the fire is so large it’s creating its own weather and lightning. I learned a new word: pyrocumulus. Pyrocumulus clouds are created by the smoke and heat from a wildfire. My weather app has often said “sunny,” but when I look outside it’s been hard to find the sun through the smoky haze and orange skies. It’s scary to realize all those clouds are actually smoke.
There are currently more than 2,000 firefighters assigned to the Cedar Creek Fire. The cost to fight it has exceeded $53 million. And there could be up to six weeks left before the end of wildfire season.
The air quality index is terrible, ranging from unhealthy to hazardous. It’s been a rollercoaster, changing by the day as winds shift.
Outdoor sports games and programs have been canceled or relocated. Bend’s indoor pools and rec centers have been closed.
I stayed indoors for a couple of days at the end of last week to avoid the smoke. Even being inside was difficult. My eyes burned. I had a dull headache. And my throat felt like I just smoked a cigarette. Gross!
By Saturday I was a little stir-crazy, and since hiking around here was out of the question due to the poor air quality, I hopped in my car. Since I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to drive the entire 66 miles of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway toward Mount Bachelor and continue through the beautiful Cascade Lakes.
I knew I’d be heading in the direction of the fire, but I didn’t realize I’d only be able to drive about 30 miles before the road was closed and I had to turn around. It was interesting to see two large staging areas where the firefighters have set up camp for themselves and all their equipment.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
On Sunday I drove to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, a few miles south of Bend, hoping the air quality would be better in that direction. It was not.
But it was weirdly fitting to be walking around the Trail of the Molten Land with the intense smell and feel of smoke everywhere around me. This short trail loops across basalt lava flow at the base of Lava Butte, a cinder cone on Newberry Volcano, one of the largest volcanoes in North America. It’s the size of Rhode Island!
I drove up to the top of Lava Butte and walked around the perimeter. If this smoke dissipates, I’d love to get back to check out the views. You’re supposed to be able to see panoramic views of the Cascade Mountains.
I am ready to get back outside!
I’m unfortunately getting used to living near a wildfire. I wake up with a dull headache and scratchy eyes and know what it’s from. My clothes smell like I’ve been sitting by a bonfire. I’ve talked to a few of my neighbors, and they say this is becoming their new reality each summer and fall.
Air quality has been improving the past couple of days. Temperatures are much cooler than last week, rain is in the forecast this weekend, and there might even be a dusting of mountain snow. I hope that will help contain the fire a bit and improve the air quality even more.
I still have so much to explore in Oregon and only two weeks left! I’ve taken hundreds of photos in and around Bend and will share my favorites soon.
For now, I’ve created a photo gallery of what the area is like due to the Cedar Creek Fire.