CORBETT, Ore. (KOIN) — As winds whip atop the Columbia River Gorge, the town of Corbett reflects on the fire that nearly wiped it off of the map five years ago.
In early September 2017, a fire spread, that at times, burned on both sides of the Columbia River. As Fire Weather Warning and Red Flag Warnings cover all of central and western Oregon from strong, easterly winds it brings back memories of that time for Brian Paul.
“We were on the lavender farm, me and my brother in-law, were hosing down the perimeter because it was about ready to jump across from the Vista House to Women’s Forum and the wind died down and we were saved,” Paul remembers. “Otherwise it would have ripped right through Corbett.”
Paul and his family run the Columbia View Lavender Farms. Friday morning he headed down the hill from Corbett into the metro area to grab a generator. The one he bought was one of two left in the Harbor Freight store at the time.
The purchase was necessary after power to the town of Corbett had been cut off shortly after 5 a.m. as one of the several outages Portland General Electric implemented to ensure the utility’s power lines don’t inadvertently start a fire.
The safety shutoff is “inconvenient” Paul admits, but says he understands.
“It’s better than having your farm ripped through with fire,” Paul said.
Paul says, in addition to the Eagle Creek Fire, he’s noticed fires getting worse in recent years. The power shut-offs are much larger than the approximate 5,000 customers who lost power in 2020, ahead of the Labor Day Fires in 2021.
“We realized that we don’t need a fire to even start any more to be impacted by fire danger,” said Kaitlyn Trudeau, a data analyst with Climate Central.
Climate Central, a policy-neutral group researching climate changes, has researched the average number of fire weather days since 1973.
In North-Central Oregon, the organization has found an average increase of 17 Fire-weather days from 1973 to 2021. In South-Central Oregon, it tracked an average increase of 23 days in that time frame.
The Portland metro is in its top five for summers with the most amount of 90-degree days and in the top five for longest stretch without rain.
“That is definitely making it harder for us fire-wise because it’s drying out the landscape, it’s drying out and making it like kindling and waiting for a spark to be lit,” Trudeau said.
While fires and drought have always been a part of the environment’s natural processes, Trudeau says the warmer, drier impacts of climate change are accentuating those extremes.
For Paul, he hopes the generator can help his family stay cool this weekend.
Paul noted “Corbett’s pretty good with rolling with the punches. We’re of the pioneer spirit out here.”