Cedar Creek fire burns during heat wave

Photo credit: Cedar Creek Fire/Alex Hickey, Washington TF2

Oakridge residents scramble for safety

September 13, 2022 - Ash rained down on Cottage Grove through the weekend as the Cedar Creek fire raged on, leaving many of Oakridge, High Prairie and Westfir’s evacuee’s stranded, with no place to go. Highway 58 was closed in both directions, coming in and out of Oakridge, as regional and state fire departments, called together by Oregon Fire Marshal, banded together to try and put out the blaze that has so far scorched nearly 90, 000 acres — and counting — in the area.

As of Tuesday, the wildfire remains at 0% contained with over 1,200 fire personnel working around the clock. There were 5,000 people on the ground covering 18 fires in Washington and Oregon. As of press time, parts of Highway 58 have since reopened. To make matters worse, Lane County is under an “Extreme” fire danger category with South Lane Fire & Rescue issuing tips and reminders about the dangers of smoking outdoors while traveling, casual open cooking fires, portable cooking stoves, power tools, mowing grass, illegal fireworks and other prohibited activities.

Electricity was also shut off in some areas by local companies like Lane Electric, EWEB, and Pacific Power. Some areas around Lowell, Culp Creek and Dorena were still dark on Sept. 11.

Oakridge residents were given a “Be Ready” warning on the evening of Sept. 8 and a “Go Now” Level 3 order only 24 hours later.

Those who stayed to recover what they could from their homes were given the ultimatum at the end of the day. People already prepared were on their way to safety, while those that were not, stayed behind and struggled to leave, as roads bottlenecked, creating enormous amounts of traffic for the distressed. Cell phone towers carried light signals and drivers had to scramble for detours. On social media, an outpouring of support began as the fire spread. Mutual aid and private groups, businesses and citizens offered locations for respite to those seeking safety from the fire’s outgrowth.

Actions like these quickly conjure up 2020’s Holiday Farm fire, the effects of which are still felt today in Lane County. It was documented as one of the largest wildfires in the state's history.

Those fleeing from the Cedar Fire with animals were told they could go to places like the Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, which provided food and limited space; they're currently accepting donations.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offered a press release on how wild animals seek refuge and tips on how people can help wildlife affected by the dangerous conditions of displacement.

Teams of firefighters from across the state are working with Lane County Sheriffs and Oregon Department of Forestry as service partners to protect the people of the area, staging and monitoring detours.

As of Sept. 11, the Lane Transit District Diamond Express Bus service to Oakridge was suspended due to the Cedar Creek Fire, until further notice and will only go as far as Dexter. People can visit Willamette National Forest and Deschutes National Forest for detailed closure orders and a joint map.

Preparing for safety should be on the household agenda. The Oregon Wildfire Response & Recovery provides a useful kit to assemble and have nearby. This includes an emergency backpack that’s easy to carry for each family member and pet. Having the items stocked where they can be accessed will help save time in an emergency. Readying exercises to get yourself and pets loaded and unloaded into containers and vehicles are necessary for events live these. Keep calm, mitigate your plan, prepare for everyone, respond by mobilizing and recover by repairing and rehabilitating.

Local weather reporter, Scott Borgioli of Cottage Grove Weather and Emergency Preparedness, gives a glimmer of hope. He analyzed, “The easterly wind event that brought smoke and ash into our area is now behind us. The Cedar Creek Fire intensified with these winds, but smoke is gradually mixing out of our area and air quality is slowly improving with a fall-like weather pattern that will now kick in throughout the week. We're finally done with 90° temperatures until next year.”

The air quality index in Oakridge is currently at 103, making it unhealthy for sensitive groups and 7.2 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value but, conditions are improving to moderate. Currently, Cottage Grove has an AQI of 29, or a good level, and its forecast predicts it to head into better air quality by the middle of the week and into the weekend.

It is still recommended that people close their windows to avoid particulates in the air and sensitive groups should reduce outdoor exercise.

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