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Apocalypse Now

Devastating wildfires join forces with Covid to push us deeper into our protective bubbles, as we concoct creative ways to keep 2 young boys and 6 adults sane in captivity.

11 September 2020

The ER is the last place anyone wants to find themselves in the time of Covid. Yet, that’s exactly where we found ourselves in early September while visiting family in our Covid bubble in Tigard.

We had finished a two-week quarantine after making our way back from Cambodia, Noe had had a Covid test in the past week, and multiple physicians ruled out Covid, so we were confident that wasn’t the situation here.

Still, we weren’t the least excited about having to make a trip to a hospital for our son’s mystery illness.

Eight hours (and dozens of tests) later, Noe’s condition had much improved and we were all discharged.

Every test came back negative, so the docs told us to keep an eye on him and let them know if anything changes.

Even so, the decision was made to head back to our home base in Southern Oregon sooner than expected to err on the side of caution.

The next couple of days were blissfully mundane. We enjoyed packing in as much time in the late summer sunshine as is humanly possible, and the boys loved it too, of course.

 

This guy LOVES barbecue anything. Can you tell?

Drives with Poppi in his “race car.”

Gearing up for Labor Day.

From dawn til dusk, the sky seemed an endless sea of deep blue.

The night before, my dad and I were sitting on the front porch and just happened to be talking about wildfires, of all things. California was getting hit pretty bad. But, unfortunately, that’s nothing unusual these days.

Looking out across the valley, both of us remarked how fortunate we were to have made it to September without any major fires to deal with in the region.

We should have kept our mouths shut.

A morning visit with the boys to Wildlife Safari, this time with Lori’s parents.

 

Then, just two hours later, this.

 

That’s thick, acrid smoke rolling in from the east, where winds and dry conditions have fueled several small wildfires overnight.

Driving west with blue sky on the horizon, and thick smoke rolling in from behind.

 

The cause of the largest fire in the county, the Archie Creek fire, which devastated much of the National Forest east of town, was later believed to be caused by negligence on the part of the power company.

It was the largest and most devastating fire in generations, and would have made national headlines…if it hadn’t been but one of around 90 large fires quickly spreading across the length of the Western U.S. on this particular day.

This region is no stranger to wildfires, and there have been many significant ones over the years.

What made this season stand out was the timing. September is usually the driest time of year in the region, so late season fires tend to have drier brush to burn. But the biggest factor was the winds ⏤ strong easterlies coming from a weather system in Canada, which are rare for this time of year.

Instead of low velocity winds blowing over the Coast Range from the Pacific, we had strong, steady wind blowing from the exact direction of the fires, which tend to burn in the densely forested Cascade Mountain range and foothills east of the I-5 corridor.

This is a satellite image of the West Coast, from Northern Washington to Southern California, on September 9, 2020.

And, the view for the better part of ten days in our neck of the woods.

#nofilter, as the cool kids say these days ⏤ all these photos are straight off my phone with no adjustments.

 

4pm in late summer.

Things were looking pretty bad out there, so I decided to pull out my trusty air quality meter that I got after Laos experienced the worst air quality in the world and take a reading.

The PM 2.5 reading (the most dangerous particle size for breathing) was literally off the charts:

The thick blanket of smoke settled into the valley and lingered for about ten days. The air quality remained at the “hazardous” level around the clock for two weeks.

Which presented a new challenge (on top of everything else), what do we do with the boys NOW?

They can’t play outside or do any outdoor activities (in the height of summer) due to the toxic air outside, and there are no indoor spaces open to play in due to Covid.

Fortunately, we had two houses to split the time between, but it was still a challenge with two high-energy little boys.

Over the next several days, I would take the boys on a drive around the western (i.e. safe[er]) side of town with recycled air on.

We were limited to where we could go, given that the fires were raging uncontained just east of town.

To be honest, the drives weren’t all that exciting because there just wasn’t a lot to see. But the boys were good sports and tolerated daddy’s music at least.

The city was under a Level 1 evacuation order (meaning be prepared to evacuate) for the duration of the fires, which never breached the hills surrounding the city (though one fire came a bit too close for comfort on the northeastern edge).

Honestly, there weren’t a lot of places we could go to escape the smoke (unless it was a real emergency), given that the entire West Coast was affected (I’ll refer you back to the satellite image above).

So…we waited things out, eerily reminiscent of too many other moments this year, and, if we’re being honest, so “2020.”

Riley did enjoy watching videos of his big brother when he was a sprightly toddler, and we had four other adults confined to the same spaces as us to take a turn at entertaining.

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