Today is the release day for Old Flames. But it’s very hard for me to celebrate right now. Oregon is on fire. This last week has seen the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in my state’s history.
One week ago today, on September 8, I woke up at 8:30 and thought the sun hadn’t risen yet. It was dark as night, but when I looked out the window I was greeted by the unnerving sight of red. The sky was red. The air out my window was red. Everything was red.
As it turned out, overnight massive wildfires had broken out or started due to a historic windstorm the night before. Hurricane-force winds more typical of winter weather came along with unprecedented temperatures and low humidity. Everything caught fire. Everything.
That morning when I looked out the window, a massive fire was raging just 15 miles east of my house. We spent several days on tenterhooks, unsure of whether we would have to evacuate or not. Miraculously, I did not need to evacuate. But many of my friends did. Many members of my community lost their homes. Some members of my community lost their lives.
And that morning, as I looked out my bedroom window at a world on fire, I was very, very cognizant of the fact that I was just days away from the publication of a book where the main character is in the exact same position I was. When I wrote the book, I specifically noted that I invented a fictional town because I didn’t want to wish destruction on any real location. And then, one week before its release, I got to watch that very destruction befall my own community.
I felt déjà vu as I looked out at the orange sky, as I breathed in the horrible smell of smoke, as I watched the evacuation zones grow closer to my house, as I packed my go-bag, as I scrambled to find N95 respirators for my family who needed to work outside in the smoke. And I kicked myself for the little details I got wrong. Like the fact that ash caked the ground, the rooftops, the cars on the street in a way eerily reminiscent of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Or like the fact that even though they were able to send out blaring text messages to alert us about contaminated drinking water, they haven’t figured out how to do that for fire evacuations yet, meaning some people slept through evacuation notices and barely escaped with their lives.
I wrote Old Flames both as a way to raise awareness about this reality of life in the western US, and as a way to process my own experiences with wildfire in 2017, when I had to watch the destruction of my former home of Sonoma County from a distance, unable to do anything but worry. I had no way of knowing, when I finished writing the book in July, what was waiting for me and my current home the very week of this book’s release.
This time, I am here, and I can help.
I will be donating all proceeds from sales of Old Flames through at least the rest of the year to aid for fire victims and to organizations focused on wildfire prevention. This includes Kindle Unlimited page reads, so if you’re a KU subscriber and you’d like to check the book out that way, I will still dedicate those funds to helping the community recover from these fires.
If you would like to more directly help the victims of the Santiam Fire (also known as the Beachie Creek Fire) and the other disastrous fires in Oregon, please check out these resources.
How can we prevent these fires in the future?
Note: This gets kind of political. Please know that I hate politics. I hate it a lot. I don’t want to fight with anyone. I can see everyone’s side. But for once, I want to share my side, because this is important to me.
There has been a lot of discussion particularly from the governors of the West Coast states about how these fires are caused by climate change. I realize this is a heavily charged political issue, and I don’t want to get into that. Whether you believe in human-caused climate change or not, the point is moot. For the purpose of the rest of this post, I am going to approach the following from the perspective that anthropogenic global warming is in fact real and that everything we’ve been told about it is true. Please just go with me on this, even if you do not believe in AGW. I think you will see my point regardless of where you fall on this issue.
Working from the assumption that the scientific consensus is correct and that AGW has caused the conditions which allowed this firestorm to occur, the solution still is NOT to get up on your high horse and go, “This is all the climate deniers’ fault, neener-neener.” But this is what the West Coast governors are doing. I was particularly disgusted with former California governor Jerry Brown, who said, “This is not enough [to change the minds of those who don’t believe in climate change]. But don’t worry, we’re going to have this over and over.”
The message of Brown as well as Governors Newsom, Brown and Inslee seems to be, “See! Ha! We told you! This is all your fault!” I mean really, “Don’t worry“? Seriously? People are going to die, but don’t worry, eventually we’ll get those climate deniers to see that all this is their fault and then we’ll… gloat, I guess? Over the piles of dead bodies?
This is not a solution. And this attitude is absolutely unacceptable at a time of such unprecedented tragedy. We need to be looking for real solutions. The fact of the matter is: if we are to accept the scientific consensus, the data, and the projections, the climate has already changed. And even if we were to globally adopt the most strict measures to stop the further progression of the climate’s change, it won’t bring us back to how we were before overnight. We would not see results for years, most likely decades. The damage may already be done, and there may be no getting back ever. We are going to have to live with this, whether temporarily or permanently. We can’t just sit here wringing our hands and pointing the finger of blame. We have to be proactive.
So what do we do in the meantime?
Remember that this is just my opinion, I don’t want a fight but I want to speak my mind.
First and foremost, we need to accept the fact that we have caused these conditions. Not (just) because of AGW, but because we made Native American practices of land management illegal. When White Americans first came to the West, they were amazed at how beautiful, fertile, and verdant the land and the forest were. That wasn’t a happy accident. That was the result of centuries of responsible land management by the Native American tribes who lived here, knew this land, and knew how to take care of it. By banning their practices of prescribed/controlled burns and the other techniques that they had developed, we let the land become overgrown. Now a hundred years have passed. Picture what happens to your garden if you leave it alone for a season. Now imagine doing that for a century.
So, first matters first: we have got to immediately get back to the land management techniques that were practiced for centuries, that this land evolved to expect. The Department of Forestry has begun to incorporate prescribed/controlled burning into its forest management plans over the last couple years. This needs to be expanded, and it is crucial that Native American tribes be brought in on it and that they are the guiding force. This is absolutely essential. They know what they’re doing. Let them do it. It’s not enough (nor is it acceptable) to take their ideas and try to do it our way. They need to be calling the shots, and this needs to be done ASAP. We will not see results from this overnight. Unfortunately, things have gotten too overgrown. It’s going to take time to undo a century’s worth of mistakes. But we need to start now.
Secondly: we need to work with the timber industry. Seriously. Please don’t come at me about environmentalism. I am a conservationist. Read my books. My books will tell you my feelings about nature, forests, trees, and the wild world. But we’ve got forests that are full of dead trees from drought and from prior fires. They need to go. We can’t just leave them; they will burn. The Oregon timber industry is very dedicated to responsible forest management. Environmentalists from Eugene, don’t @ me. I’m serious. I have interacted with these people. They’re not a bunch of money-grubbing tree-killers. They care about the forests as much as we do. We have got to face the fact that we are living in a warmer world and that this state is growing in population, which puts strain on the forest. We can’t just wish it wasn’t true and leave things the way they are now. Believe me, every time I see a grove of trees hacked down for some new development, my soul dies. Again: read my books. My feelings will become crystal clear. I don’t want to just clear-cut national forests. I don’t want to eradicate old growth forests, and I don’t want to go overboard cutting down more trees than necessary. But with the current regulations in place and with both sides being willing to give and take, the timber industry can be a valuable ally in preventing destructive wildfires. We can’t just leave dead trees to burn. They need to be removed.
Third: I know you want to go camping. I know you really, really want to. I know you think that you’re responsible, you know how to put out a campfire correctly, that your cigarette won’t cause a fire, that your tires won’t light grass on fire. You think it’ll be okay. You’re just one person. But maybe… just maybe… when there’s a historic windstorm coming in along with a heat wave and during the dead of summer when things have dried out… maybe you should just consider staying home. Just this once. Or at least not lighting a campfire (or, even worse, fireworks). Remember Smokey Bear, guys. Please.
Other things to consider: plant some trees. Only good comes from planting more trees. They’re so pretty. They look so nice. They give us oxygen. Faeries live in them. They’re seriously magical. Haven’t you seen FernGully? Trees are magic. Oh, and guess what, they’re the best way to combat global warming. We should all plant more trees.
Anyway, politics over. Wildfire prevention is extremely important to me. I wrote a whole book about it. So thank you for allowing my rant.
Old Flames is available now for anyone who would like to read it and support the fire victims in this small way.