Bark Alert: Fire Ecology, Smoke Safety + Community Resources

We love you, Barkers!

We hope that this finds you and your people safe from the ongoing fires and the thick layer of smoke that has settled over much of the region. We understand that many of you may have a lot of questions right now—Bark doesn’t have all the answers, but through the haze, we want to offer some clarity on what we know about the fire in Oregon’s forests and to share resources on what we can all do right away to protect ourselves and to help those with the greatest need right now.

smoky view of st. johns neighborhood street in portland, oregon. cars, homes, trees, and power lines are obscured through the gray blanket of haze

 View facing south from St. Johns neighborhood, Portland, OR. 

 

What is causing these fires?

Fire is a naturally-occurring event that is part of the normal life cycle of a forest. The current fires have spread rapidly due to a once-in-a-hundred years weather event where extremely dry conditions combined with powerful east winds to fuel the rapid spread of pre-existing smaller fires while also starting new ones. We don’t know the spark for all the fires — most likely a combination of natural and human ignitions that were expanded by the weather conditions.

Does this have something to do with Climate Change? 

Climate change is undoubtedly causing the region to become hotter and drier earlier, and to stay dry later. This lengthens the period of time where fire events like the current ones can occur and it is possible that it could contribute to more frequent extreme wind events like the one that we experienced on Labor Day.  

What can we do to stop this from happening?

These large fires are weather events, as impossible to stop as a hurricane or an earthquake, but there are actions that Oregonians can take to better prepare. We can build greater fire resilience into forest ecosystems. We can teach people what they can do to protect their lives and homes. We can prepare better responses to these kinds of events in order to minimize the impacts to public health. While these fires will affect Bark’s watchdog work in Mt. Hood National Forest in unknown ways, Bark’s efforts moving forward will continue to be focused on increasing the resiliency of the forest in the face of looming threats like post-fire “salvage” logging, new or re-imagined timber sales, and climate change.

Could more logging have stopped these fires?

The best scientific research suggests that “fuels reduction” logging has little effect in impacting the kind of large-scale weather driven fires like the ones we’re seeing now. In some cases, it may actually increase the severity of the burn. This argument was a fundamental part of the basis for Bark’s lawsuit against Crystal Clear Timber Sale which ultimately helped win the case for us.

Over the past hundred years, the ecology of the forests has been vastly changed by logging, grazing, development, and fire suppression. The Forest Service is not the traditional steward of these lands and their management omits the careful, cultural practices of Indigenous burning that protected and sustained the forest ecosystem for millennia. The scientific research produced in recent years is leading us back to what the traditional stewards of this land knew centuries before white settlers came to this region.

As an organization committed to ecological management of Mt. Hood National Forest, Bark advocates for public lands management using scientific principles to protect and restore ecological health. For more information about our approach to fire policy, read Bark’s Fire Policy.

What should I be doing to stay safe and healthy?

First, if your family is advised to evacuate, please do so safely and quickly. Even if you are not currently under an evacuation order, get organized and make a plan for your loved ones and pets. If you must travel, be aware of road closures from the Oregon Department of Transportation.

While some of the evacuation advisories have been lifted, there are still considerable safety hazards associated with the lingering smoke. N95 masks are the most effective against smoke particles. Since these are in high demand, they should be reserved for essential and healthcare workers. If you do not have an N95 mask, wear your cloth one and keep any time outside brief. If you are using a cloth mask or bandana (and are in a COVID-safe space, like your home) dampen the mask for easier breathing. Remember that we are still in a pandemic, so cloth masks are still required in all public spaces. Keep social distancing, too.

  • Stay inside as much as you can and seal all windows, doors, and openings.
  • If you happen to have an AC unit, be sure the air is set to “re-circulate”.
  • If you don’t have AC, here is a how-to video to build a DIY HEPA filter for $25.
  • Don’t burn candles, smoke or vacuum. Minimize your use of gas and fossil fuels.

You might be experiencing some shortness of breath, itchy throat, cough, or headaches. Take care by doing an herbal steam and drinking herbal teas that support your throat and respiratory system. If you don’t have access to herbs, this is a great opportunity to support BIPOC herbalists and farmers. For more information on smoke, wildfires, and keeping your family safe visit Multnomah County's Smoke and Wildfire Sheet.

How can I help?

The impacts of wildfire are far-reaching. Lives have been lost, and homes and businesses have been destroyed. Until the smoke clears and the fires are contained, the extent of loss is unclear. One thing we do know for certain is that these fires generate and disperse tiny pollutants. The effects of air pollution on health are high and even higher at a disproportionate rate for BIPOC and poor communities. Bark encourages individuals and families who are able to support direct relief efforts being organized in the affected areas or to support families in need directly. If you are located in or have been evacuated to Portland, here is an evolving list of community supported resources:

Compiled by Heldáy de la Cruz.

If you are in or near Clackamas County, Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forest areas, or Warm Springs, visit these resources:

To keep up-to-date with fire and smoke conditions, developments, closures, and evacuations check these verified sites:

We will continue to share information in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, please continue to offer support wherever possible, read up, and stay safe.

For the forests,

         Daniela del Mar, Bark Communications Coordinator

multi color graphic showing a view of Mt. Hood, surrounded by coniferous forest with the city of Portland in the foreground