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On Wildifires and Evacuations I

On Monday night - after having spent countless hours barbecuing, drinking, and lazying a beautiful, sunny Labor Day holiday away - we went to bed. Since I couldn't fall asleep right away, like my partner in crime did, I stayed up for a while and read. Around midnight, the power started flickering on and off a couple of times and by 1:30 in the morning the power had gone completely. When I finally turned in around three the power remained out.

Despite the fun and exhausting Labor Day we'd both had, we woke up early on Tuesday to get a jump on the week and in doing so we glanced outside to see the sunrise, as we are wont to do when we wake up early. The fog off the ocean mixed with the early morning sun gave a delightful red-orange glow to the world. Simply gorgeous. Great way to start the work week.

The better half went to take the trash out to the curb for the normal Tuesday pickup.

"That's not fog," she said. "It's smoke."

I should mention that I'd heard the wind pick up when I was reading in bed, and since I like to sleep with the window open, I'd occasionally smelled smoke. Just before dozing off, too tired to finish the Stephen King story I was enjoying, I'd shut the window because of it. I'd just assumed the smoke was from Tripper (more on them later - think vacationer) bonfires on the beach even though we had a burn ban in effect for the entire county - rare during the even-busier-than-the-normally-busy-summer-on-the-coast weekends - think the three day-ers: Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. The city and county get beaucoup bucks during even slowish weekends on the coast and Trippers love them some beach bonfires, so if there was a burn ban during one of the busiest weekends of the year there was good reason for it.

"It's smoke," she'd said. I went outside and sure enough. Smoke. We knew areas of Oregon were burning, that's unfortunately normal and not much of anything to worry about here on the usually very moist coast. We're used to being smoked out a couple of times a year from fires as far away as California, Washington, and Canada.

Since the power was out from the strong winds (also not rare on the coast, our house has to have a roof rated for winds of up to 120 mph (FEMA class G), unfortunately power lines' limits are much lower) and the smoke was up, we made sure all of our windows were closed, turned on data on our phones, and got back to making coffee (always have a battery back up on the coffee maker, natch), grabbing laptops, logging into VPNs, and getting down to the business of figuring out where we wanted to sit in our living room while we worked.

We'd just settled into the chair-and-a-halfs when our phones blew up with chimes and beeps and vibrations. "Did you hear..." "Have you seen..." "The fire..." "It's unbelievable..." And it was unbelievable. Overnight we'd gone from beautiful and mild and cool, enjoying the sunny three day weekend with nothing to worry about to beautiful and hot and a one thousand acre fire just a couple of miles away.

The strong winds came from the east, which is rare, and the coast was due for almost ninety degree weather, which is extremely rare, and it had been so very dry for so many months, which is absurdly rare - summer is not the rainy season on the Oregon Coast, but that's just because during fall and winter and spring we get so much rain that the rain we usually get in summer seems like almost nothing, but this year it didn't just seem like almost nothing, it actually was almost nothing.

During that first day we monitored the official sites for information - city, county, and state authority websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts. The winds, high temps, and dry conditions were hampering containment efforts. All of Oregon's biggest helicopters which could be used to drop water on fires were in Afghanistan. Sirens continuously warbled, whooped, and waaaaaah'd, dopplering their way through the city. Fire crews were short on availability given all the other wild fires going on. The fire advanced.

Grim news for the home team.

That night we went to bed, power still out and windows still closed, and by morning the fires - two fires actually, Echo Mountain Fire and Kimberly Mountain Fire - combined to form one fire: Echo Mountain Complex. Echo Mountain Complex had jumped the containment lines due to the still strong winds from the east and stupid dry conditions on the ground. About two thousand acres were burning. East winds meant it was roaring our way. Dry conditions and lack of resources meant there was little be done about it.