U.S. Wildfires—a national emergency in the midst of a pandemic

we have meandered through grief, loss, and trauma at the complete loss of our home‘ – Libby Patterson

By Karen Phillips

When I began writing this article on the wildfires raging in the United States, horrific events were happening simultaneously in several states. As my research progressed, instead of having less to write about I found more escalation, and began to see a pattern of people I know personally as acquaintances or friends being directly impacted by these fires.

On September 7, 2020, a wildfire in Eastern Washington State burned through the small town of Malden and nearby Pine City. Malden’s fire station, post office, city hall, library and a number of homes were completely destroyed by the fire. The town’s population was evacuated as the fire approached, and nearby Pine City was also badly affected. A friend with connections there told me that the grain elevator her family uses for their wheat crops was burned down in Pine City and people she knows were driving in tractors, making fire breaks, and trying to round up cattle as the fence posts had burned down and cattle were running loose. In Wenatchee, Washington, 170 miles away, the air quality was so toxic last week that no-one could go outside, and the neighbors’ homes across the street were invisible due to smoke.

On September 9th, in Oregon, about 2 hours from Portland, the Beachie Creek fire created tremendous destruction with some tragic deaths.  A young boy, 13 year old Wyatt Tofts and his grandmother died trying to flee from their home, and Wyatt’s mother was critically injured. Wyatt’s uncle posted this on Facebook:

“The Lions Head fire took the life of many people today including my mom Peggy Moss and nephew Wyatt Tofte. It also left my sister seriously burned and in Legacy ICU.Don’t take anything in life for granted and make the best of everyday.”

That same day, Cindy Kubica, host of Energized Living Today was driving with her granddaughter toward Salem and Eugene, Oregon. They were turned back toward Portland as the roads were closed and evacuations were started. She shared photos of the sky on fire and the air full of smoke. She wrote “This is Eugene and Salem, then back into Portland, OR. They started the evacuation when we were in Eugene. It was hard to breathe. You could see the smoke from the fire from highway 5. At this point they started evacuating.”

In California, master perfumer Libby Patterson had her home burn to the ground and had 30 minutes to evacuate to town to her studio shop. After spending the night, she then had to evacuate her store and go stay with friends. She wrote on Facebook and her blog

“My beautiful home burned last night. I evacuated to my perfume studio overnight until an evacuation for Davenport…Praying for our garden and shops in Pescadero now as I hear they are also evacuating town.”

A few days later she wrote “For those who have been supporting us as we have meandered through grief, loss, and trauma at the complete loss of our home due to the California Wildfires thank you so much. We have been staying at friends who also lost their home, then in our Perfume Camp Barn in the Garden.”

To begin to understand the impact of the US wildfires is to realize the magnitude of how many regions are being decimated and how many people are losing their homes and their lives. 70 large fires are burning at levels of containment from 0% to contained in 11 states–Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming. Looking at a map, the whole Western side of the United States is affected. The air quality is the worst it’s ever been for many states. Safe air is typically at levels of 0-50 on the Air Quality Index Scale, and The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality monitoring website Airnow.gov have recently listed air quality index readings that have ranged from 350 to more than 515. The figures are changing daily, but currently 40 or more people have lost their lives, hundreds are missing, 40,000 in Oregon alone have had to evacuate, and the number of homes burned is unknown.

To begin to understand the impact of the US wildfires is to realize the magnitude of how many regions are being decimated and how many people are losing their homes and their lives.

Francis Rico Hayhurst, a musician, author and shaman lives in California near some of the most recent fires that began this weekend. He wrote me:

“Right at the moment 65 square miles of fire, less than 3 miles from my house are burning out of control with no containment…Firefighters are battling at least 25 major wildfires, as of Tuesday September 29. More than 8,100 wildfires have burned well over 3.7 million acres of California this year. At least 26 people have died and over 7,000 structures have been destroyed since August 15, when the state reported elevated fire activity, according to Cal Fire’s latest report…and the official fire season has only just begun. It is so obvious and being said over and over that this is climate change.” He continued that there were millions of dead trees because of a bark beetle that has gotten out of control due to not enough cold days in winter to keep the pest under control. This coupled with longer heatwaves in the summer and the yearly winds in September and October to spark it all up. Besides the loss of human life, Francis wrote:

“the heart break is the birds and creatures and trees and plants that can’t escape it—-the innocents.”

I asked Francis for ways to help, and he gave me a resource local to him, and I have included some other ones. The primary organization nationwide is the American Red Cross, which works with area partners for helping those who have lost homes and to provide resources. I spoke with a staff worker at Northwest Human Services in Oregon, and she suggested for those who wish to donate, that The United Way and the Chamber of Commerce were coordinating resources for area residents. If people wish to donate their time and are able to do so, there are volunteer opportunities through Arches for those who have lost homes. For those wishing to help wildlife affected by fires, The Wildlife Rescue of Sonoma County desperately need funds and volunteers.



https://www.krem.com/article/news/local/wildfire/town-of-malden-destroyed-wildfire/293-508a1a33-fffb-4e33-bdb2-54f375c1a3d5, retrieved September 11, 2020

https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/sep/08/it-all-happened-so-fast-malden-pine-city-residents/ retrieved September 11, 2020

Karen Phillips, interview with friend, September 27, 2020

Lonnie Bertalotto, https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011571126202, retrieved September 11, 2020

Cindy Kubica, https://www.facebook.com/EnergizedLivingToday, Quoted with permission from the Energized Living Today Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/energizedlivingtodaygroup



https://www.nifc.gov/fireInfo/nfn.htm, https://www.fireweatheravalanche.org/fire/


https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/12/fires-in-oregon-california-and-washington-spread-death-toll-rises.htmlhttps://www.fire.ca.gov/daily-wildfire-report/ retrieved September 30, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/deadly-fires-california-have-claimed-least-30-lives-year-n1241632 retrieved September 30th, 2020 https://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-wildfires

  Francis Rico Hayhurst, http://www.shamanzone.com/francis/

WAYS TO HELP:The American Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/,

The United Way: https://www.unitedway.org/recovery/west-coast-wildfire-relief,

The Wildlife Rescue of Sonoma County: https://www.scwildliferescue.org/

Karen Phillips

Karen Phillips comes from a multi-cultural background, growing up in Brussels and Izmir, Turkey. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in mental health with children, adolescents and their families, with a special interest in working with Latino families. She currently lives in the Triangle area of North Carolina, in the center of the state, between the mountains and the coast. For some years Karen lived in the Pacific Northwest in the Seattle Washington area. She was a keeper aid at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle working with the Lowland Gorilla and Nocturnal Animal units, as well as the volunteer coordinator for Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue, a nonprofit group that works with area shelters. Her special interests are international and independent films, languages, poetry, reading all sorts of works, philosophical dialogues, perfumery, tea with friends, and watching animals. In her spare time, she does testing and reviews of new perfume blends for various niche and indie perfumers.

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