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From The New York Times, I'm Megan Twohey. This is The Daily. Today as wildfires continue to rip through parts of the West. Oregon is seeing unprecedented destruction. My colleague Jack Healy talks to those living in its. It's Tuesday, September 15th. So, Jack, tell us what's been happening in Oregon, unrelenting fires continuing to rage throughout Oregon.


Well, a million acres of Oregon have burned in recent weeks, but the flames comes that toxic smoke that's blanketed the West Coast, smothering several major cities as incredibly dry conditions exacerbated by the effects of climate change, combined with a really historic and devastating windstorm to create some of the worst fire conditions that people here have seen in years, if not generations.


Nearly three dozen wildfires so widespread they can be seen from space.


There are 30 different fires burning in Oregon. Officials are bracing for a mass fatality incident.


They have killed 10 people and displaced tens of thousands of people across the state from just outside of Portland all the way down to southern Oregon.


This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state's history.


The damage is widespread and the scale is just absolutely mind boggling.


So I flew into Portland last Thursday and when I arrived, the plane touched it down through a thick, impenetrable haze of smoke that has actually grounded a lot of flights and prevented travel in and out of the area pretty severely. Wow. So right after touching down in Portland, as I drove into the fire zone through tiny little towns that were being evacuated and places that were smoldering, one of the things that I kept hearing from residents, you know, whether it was people in Portland or fire officials who are on the front lines of this or people whose houses were being actively evacuated was this everybody just kept saying the entire state is burning.


The scope of these fires is so widespread that it's hard to conceive of what a million acres really looks like. I talked to one Red Cross volunteer who had been trying to put people up in hotels. And one of the challenges that they had been facing is that as hotel rooms fill up around the area where the fires are, they were trying to put people farther out in different towns. But the problem they were running into is that they were encountering refugees from other fires the farther out they put people.


So it was like these disasters were sort of spreading and colliding as you went south from Portland to Salem to Eugene to Medford.


So you're hearing that the whole state is on fire and now you have to cover it where some of the places you go.


So I went to an evacuation site in Salem at the state fairgrounds. There were a lot of people sleeping in their cars and just parked in the parking lot waiting for some motel or some room that was close by that would take a pet or accommodate their family. What's your name? Carla with accuracy.


My sister is in day two of the people I met were Carla Heath and Cindy Assman, their two sisters.


I'm 64, OK. OK. And Cindy is 67.


And for the past week or so, they have been sleeping in the front seats of their silver Buick Encore.


So let's go back. It's comfortable. We're actually sleeping. So that's amazing. It is. I know you do what you have to do at this point, you know, and that way they everybody can stay together.


They spent two nights in the parking lot of a shopping center. Yeah. The Buy Mart shopping center in Stayton.


And they decamps to the Oregon State Fairgrounds just because the smoke was getting so terrible that it was getting hard to breathe. Just the smoke in Stayton is so bad.


Oh, you could you could cut it with a knife. It's a bad. Wow. That's why we're here. Three birds. Two dogs. Oh, really? Oh, my goodness.


Oh, yeah.


I heard on the other side their house survived and they've been able, like some other residents, to kind of return and check on it and go back and forth as the fires have continued to kind of chew through the landscape.


It's been interesting, let's just put it, that wants to go back. No, they don't want us to go back now. It's going to oh, the smoke is up or above there now.


But they've been really concerned about sort of what they're going to do long term and how long they're going to be evacuated from their house.


Is it is your patience is starting to wear thin or you see. You're in pretty good spirits. We're keeping a good we're keeping a positive attitude about this. No, not at first, but we're getting better now that we're out. Out. I think things are looking up. Well, ladies, thank you so much.


Thank you. When you take care of.


So, Jack, where do you go next after talking to those sisters? So after I spent some time talking to other evacuees, I decided to head up closer to the burn zone. And as you drive up, the air just gets worse and worse and the smoke gets thicker and thicker until it's basically like the most noxious cloud you've ever been in. As I'm driving, I have the air conditioning blasting and trying to recirculate air through the cab of this white Toyota pickup truck that I've rented to get around and I'm wearing and a ninety five mask inside the car in an attempt to keep as much of this fine particulate matter that just fills the air from entering my lungs.


And as you push further into the areas that have been burned, you start to see telltale signs of what the fire has wrought. Along the roadside. You see fields that look like Hawaiian black sand beaches because the fires have just scoured them. The color of charcoal, you see areas that are totally unburnt. And then you turn a corner and there's what's left of a house, just this sort of skeleton of twisted metal and a single chimney standing up like a like a solidary soldier standing guard or something.


And things get worse and worse the farther east you go, where these little communities of retirees and recreational enthusiasts and summertime campers were just really devastated. Hey, how are you? They're good, I'm a newspaper reporter covering the wildfires.


OK, when I pulled into the tiny town of Gates, are you guys sort of part of the crews of residents who are just trying now?


This is my house. Protect your places.


That's my house, John. He's just here for the car. Sean.


Hey, I'm Jack. Mike, Mike. Great to see you.


I met a little cluster of neighbors who had decided to stick it out in side of the fire zone, you know, inside of this part of the area that had been evacuated and cleared out because they were determined to try to save their homes.


And if we didn't go back in here, my house would be gone because this fire is going around. We put out. Oh, so you actually came back in and I've been here since he's been here. No kidding. That's amazing about the house. But I got a wife house. I mean, I'm going to get out.


And they were they were taking a break from days of driving up and down the roads so you could just jump from house to house and.


Oh, yeah, I was there with other people for 11 hours.


I put that down looking for a little spot fires or smoldering areas of the woods when I got there and having a beer.


Let's say you're taking a break from now. Yeah, we just we just had a trip down is filling up with the fire.


And they were actually cracking open a couple of years and waiting for another couple of neighbors to return to their houses with a refill of water supplies from one of the local fire departments.


Yeah, I should take it down to my house is three houses down right where the fire started. They walked me around the back of their homes and showed me the hillsides right immediately behind their houses.


This was on fire. This is crazy. I came back. This was on fire. We didn't come back just hours ago near my house that had burned up and almost swallowed up their houses.


They lost everything there has gone.


They've also armed themselves with shotguns and side arms.


Are you guys carrying because you're concerned about looters or would you normally be carrying anyways, even if this wasn't like a fire situation with no law enforcement security anywhere? Yeah, I have my underwear drawer locked and loaded. It's it's ready to go open carry on like this. I usually wouldn't walk around like this. Yeah. But with everything going on.




They say they are worried about looters and outsiders coming in to rob their places or exploit the evacuations to carry out looting.


The sheriffs are going through and they're taking mailboxes with the caution tape and that indicates we've checked and no one's here, which is like a wedding invitation means, oh, there's no one there.


And is the looting a real thing that's happening? Is that a real threat at this time?


To a certain extent, yeah. What has happened in some cases is that there have been some reports and arrests of looting. But what's also happened, though, is that there have been a bunch of rumors and sort of swarms of misinformation circulating on social media about some alleged organized effort by Antifa to set fires or carry out sort of organized sprees of robberies and communities that have been evacuated, you know, kind of really fanned the flames of of a climate of fear right now, you know, as people try to wait for some sort of semblance of order or normalcy really to be restored.


So it sounds like these guys feel like they're caught between. The danger of the fire itself and the potential fear of someone breaking into their homes and they have decided that staying and protecting their homes is is worth the risk of the fire.


I think that is the essential calculation for so many people. It's do you risk your house burning down or do you risk just not knowing what's happening at what's probably your biggest economic asset and the source of so many years of work? Or do you leave and stay safe? Personally, people across the state are making that individual calculation for themselves.


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So, Jack, after you leave the town of Gates, where do you go next? Well, I went to the Black Bear Lodge, a little motel in Salem where evacuees have been staying for the past week. And there I met Travis and Jane James. You guys want to chat out here? OK. OK, great.


And they are from the tiny little communities of Detroit and Indiana and Detroit suffered probably some of the worst devastation in the fires outside of Portland. About 70 percent of the businesses and homes in this little lakeside resort town were destroyed, including cafes, a motel, a little restaurant. The market and even the city hall was destroyed while the town was basically wiped off the map.


And what did Travis and Jane tell you?


Well, Travis and Jane had a pretty harrowing story of escape. So just take me back to a Monday. I guess it was when when the winds started to kick up. Where do you guys been doing that day? Just watering and everything. OK, everyone everything was in water, water. So we were in the perimeter.


Some people from Detroit and Indiana were able to get out earlier. They left when evacuation was only a suggestion or a possibility.


Didn't want to leave because we just got the house. Yeah, well, that was my stupid mistake, thinking that I could save the house.


They had been hoping that they could stay and protect their house. But around two or three o'clock in the morning on Tuesday, it was just getting to be way too dangerous.


It was smoky. It was getting bad and was orange outside that it had had limbs of trees coming down on our house, totally burnt. Oh, wow.


Burnt limbs were raining on to their house, as well as burning pine cones and other pieces of ash and all this other debris that was rising on the column of heat from this fire and just being thrown from miles that happened.


We got the code three. Get out now. How did it how did it arrived? Did you're going to go OK? They finally got the alert and so had you guys, like, already, like, assembled like a bag or a dog. With that, we came out with a suitcase and two dogs, OK?


They ran out of the house and started to drive down the mountain to try to get to safety. But what happened is as they're driving through these walls of fire, trees are falling around them. They're exploding as they drive.


We went around a tree had fallen down on the highway.


We went around and as soon as we went around at the rockslides and then their car smashes into a rockslide and they get a flat tire. So, yeah.


So what happens then? The tire blows there in the middle of a forest fire. Wow. And so how do you change a tire? How do you take the tire off your calf? We didn't have that.


They had no choice but to turn around and head back to Detroit, where they had just come from using back the dogs back in and then right on the road, another seven miles.


And the entire forest is basically exploding around them. Are you talking to each other during all this? What are you doing? Are you filming or just. I was filming a little bit. I was screaming at him. Yeah. Who are you saying? Why are you put me.


So what did they do once they get back to Detroit, which is on fire, which is on fire. So Travis and Jane and about 70 other refugees from this fire ended up taking shelter at a boat dock. That was sort of a clearing, an area that was, you know, not immediately surrounded by trees. And then they were going to wait there until some National Guard helicopters could land and evacuate them by air.


They had to find a tree because we were surrounded. We couldn't get out. So they were going to bring had three helicopters hovering at PAYBOX up from there to our place right down here to see them there on station for about four and a half hours before they had to board because of fuel, because they couldn't. So they were just kind of like hovering and how good the wind was 165 miles an hour or so. They couldn't they couldn't land.


They waited there for hours. But those helicopters could never come in because the winds were just too rough.


And what is happening with the fire during all of this?


I mean, the fire is just burning all around them. Basically, they're getting covered in debris and ash. And, you know, as Jane said, we were surrounded. We. Couldn't get out, how many people would you say, were we there and we left, there was 40 vehicles and 70 people. Wow. They just kept coming in from all over the place. Nobody could get out. They just kept coming in. Coming in. Wow.


And so what do they do? What is the plan? Well, they were going to move us all all down to the docks. Yeah. They told us to get around the fire trucks around us, the water trucks.


And the plan was to essentially make a last stand against the fire. That's what the fire department called it.


And so essentially, the plan was the fire trucks were going to be like the last wall of defense, which would try to create a sort of wall or barrier between them and the fire and that they would spray as much water between the people and the encroaching flames as possible and just try to hold out as long as they could. But ultimately, what happened is that they got an OK to leave.


So we all lined up, followed the fire trucks out.


Someone with the Forest Service was able to find another way out of there and they found an evacuation route and they assembled a convoy of fire trucks, ARV's pickup trucks, and they headed out of there on a narrow little road with, you know, smoke and flames roaring up on either side of it.


Fire on the left hand side. Trees were falling down, down. And we're going we got to stop a couple of times so the firemen could get out there and their chainsaw and, wow, burning trees, their chainsaws going out with their trucks so we can keep them two or three times.


And during that drive, they sort of crept along and tried to stay together as best they could so that people would not get detoured into other fire zones because as they are driving, they are skirting along the edge of another massive fire that is burning just to the north of the one that had just consumed their community.


It was just a last minute make or break thing. It was like we got one shot to get out of here. It's on fire. But we're going to go my apartment and tell you I down at the Detroit Fire Department, they just stood, oh, my gosh, there are so many kids now. I know heroes.


Until that day, Jane was still really distraught and really traumatized by this.


But I went into complete meltdown when we talked it had been five days or so.


And just thinking about that trip was still something that brought her to tears. It was, yes. Humbles you even more than you are? All I did the whole time was just cry. Well, I could not stop crying. He kept trying. I, I can't. I can't. It was just way too much. And so what is their plan now, what will they do once the fires stop? Well, their house survived, OK?


They said they can lie down and Detroit Fire Department sent me a picture of our house. Oh, OK. So there it is. That's because that's as far back as the fire burned right up to our property.


They were some of the lucky ones. And their plan is to go back. And I've actually been struck by how many people in these places that have burned down are planning to go back and whether it's just returned to a house that is now surrounded by a landscape of char or whether it's to go back and try to rebuild from nothing again. People said that this had sort of increased in some ways their commitment to these communities that are incredibly threatened and are going to be even more threatened and even more at peril as the effects of climate change grow more pronounced.


Yeah, Jack, my understanding is that these fires aren't going anywhere. So how did these people square those realities that the land they live on is under increased threat of destruction, but that they also want to try to rebuild their lives there?


Are you guys going to go back? I mean, go back and live there? Yeah. Yes. OK, tell me why you're full up there. It's God's country up there. It's it's. I said I could sit outside for hours just watching the wildlife, you know, chipmunks.


Three families, once we got a all of theirs is gone, I think for a lot of the people that I've talked to, there is a certain amount of wishful thinking, hoping that this fire was just some sort of historically aberrant event, that the winds that ignited these firestorms won't flare up again, that somehow things will get better. But at a certain point, I think others are starting to wonder whether they can just sort of live with the increased risk of of living in a fire zone, because if you look outside your window across the west, we sort of all are living in some kind of fire zone.


Even if you live in San Francisco or L.A. or or Seattle, Portland, you're miles away from any place, any hillside that's going to burn down and surround your family. You're still socked in by smoke and you're still contending with incredibly dirty and in some cases dangerous air conditions. And honestly, I'm one of them. I live in Colorado and I live on the side of a hill in a pretty wild, fire prone part of Colorado. And, you know, I know that climate change is real, that it's the risks of these fires are getting worse as hotter temperatures dry out the brush.


And as as you know, weather patterns shift. But I think that there is a certain love and commitment that people have to these communities and in the mountains, in forests that they're not willing to to give up, not to mention the fact that for so many people, you're sort of locked into your home, that you a lot of people don't have the use of just, you know, pulling up stakes and and leaving.


It's what so many of the people in Detroit or Indiana or Gates had invested their entire lives in savings and a lifetime of work into and to leave even when the fire is banging down your door and climate change is screaming its presence to leave as it's it's a really difficult thing.


Well, thank you, Jack. Thank you so much. We'll be right back. As a surgeon and president of Howard University, Dr. Wayne Frederick believes even our toughest times can lead to strength and change.


This is a difficult story, but it was strengthened in a way that no classroom activity could ever have.


I'm Alicia Burke, host of the podcast that made all the difference. I talked to achievers about how they're managing the current moment and charting a course for the future. Find that made all the difference anywhere you get your podcasts created by Bank of America.


Here's what else you need to know today. It'll start getting cooler. I wish you'd just watch. I wish science agreed with you. Well, I don't think science knows, actually. On Monday, while meeting with leaders in California about the wildfires there. President Trump brushed off a question about climate change, suggesting instead that the state had failed to properly manage its forests.


When you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground, it just sets it up. It's really a fuel for a fire. So they have to do something about it.


Meanwhile, in a campaign speech, Joe Biden attacked Trump's record on climate change, saying his inaction and denial had Fed destruction in California and Oregon.


If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised that we have more America ablaze? If you give a climate deniers four more years in the White House? Why would anyone be surprised when more of America is under water?


And now that I have a clear understanding of what happened, I have to let you, the public, know what steps I am taking today to deal with our failures. Today is Chief Singletary.


Last day, lovely Warren, the mayor of Rochester, New York, announced she was firing the city's police chief two weeks before he was scheduled to voluntarily step down because of the department's handling of the death of Daniel proved.


Now we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department, one that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve.


That's it for The Daily, I'm Megan Twohey. Michael Barbaro will be back next week. See you tomorrow.