An air tanker dropping retardant on fires near Bend this Saturday. Jim Hansen/Central Oregon Fire Management Service

The state's vegetation is as dry as if it was already July.

Visitors this past weekend to Oregon's Bend metropolitan area, population roughly 170,000, might've thought a military plane accidentally dropped a small nuclear device. Wildfires erupted with ferocity around the parched land, prompting mushrooming columns of smoke like this:

And this:

Then there was this sunset-bloodied vision, looking like the birth of a new volcano:

The flames are early. The Oregon Department of Forestry picked June 9 as the start of this year's wildfire season, which is three weeks ahead of the historical average. Wildfire's premature appearance will no doubt cause consternation among those who recall that 2013 featured Oregon's worst fire season in six decades. And the mighty drought that's turning vegetation into kale chips bodes large-scale fire potential for 2014, too. A full 60 percent of the West is in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with California and Nevada suffering from severe-or-worse conditions.

"Fire behavior on these fires shows how dry conditions are on the forest and rangelands east of the Cascades," according to InciWeb, which recorded on Monday night about 1,000 personnel fighting two blazes northwest of Bend. "Although it's early June, the large logs and other downed woody debris are as dry as if it was July."

Yesterday, officials at NOAA and the Western Governors' Association renewed an agreement to work on helping communities fight (among other things) drought and forest fires. Being proactive on these issues certainly seems smart, as the kinds of conflagrations charring the West could become more frequent and damaging as the climate warms and development spreads to wooded areas.

Here's another look at the Bend area's ongoing fires, taken on Sunday by NASA's Aqua satellite (red outlines are hot spots). The flames were bad, but weren't awful enough to spoil one couple's wedding ceremony in front of the smoke-belching clouds:

NASA

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  2. A woman looks straight at camera with others people and trees in background.
    Equity

    Why Pittsburgh Is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts

    Pittsburgh is the worst place for black women to live in for just about every indicator of livability, says the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

  3. Transportation

    Why Are Little Kids in Japan So Independent?

    In Japan, small children take the subway and run errands alone, no parent in sight. The reason why has more to do with social trust than self-reliance.

  4. Life

    Mapping the Changing Colors of Fall Across the U.S.

    Much of the country won’t see those vibrant oranges and reds until mid-October, which leaves plenty of time for leaf peepers to plan their autumn road trips.

  5. a photo of volunteers packing meals for food-insecure individuals during an event in New York on the anniversary of 9/11.
    Life

    Why Americans Stopped Volunteering

    The terror attacks on September 11, 2001, inspired a national surge in civic spirit. But volunteering rates have been declining over the last two decades.

×