dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

Not All Wildfire Questions Can Be Answered

September 7th, 2022 by dk

Lane County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last week to begin proceedings that could lead to a lawsuit to replenish funds spent for the Holiday Farm wildfire recovery. Commissioners were careful to state that they weren’t suing anyone, but they had to begin the process to keep that option open.

Had the commissioners not acted by Sept. 7, the statute of limitations would have run out on any liability claims over the tragedy that happened two years ago today. Lane County can pursue legal action if necessary, after the official investigation has been completed.

Have you ever noticed when somebody dies suddenly, people immediately ask about the cause of death? That’s not because they want to “blame” cancer or heart disease. Their question concerns something deeper. The question they really want answered is simpler and more personal: “Am I next?”

If it was lung cancer and I don’t smoke, then the unspoken response is, “Phew.” If it was lung cancer and I do smoke, this might be the moment I decide to quit. We pose the question about the person who died, but the answer we seek is about ourselves.

More than half of the 460 homes lost in the Holiday Farm Fire have not yet begun to rebuild. Only a few dozen have been completed. Whenever the final report is released, it will almost certainly be unsatisfying to the area’s former residents because it won’t be able to answer their most fundamental question: “Is it safe to return?”

Assigning blame and exacting accountability is necessary for legal and financial purposes, but the frame is too small for anyone to determine whether they should dare to rebuild. Can anything be done to prevent a recurrence? Without that hope, every effort to return feels like a six-figure gamble.

The larger frame of causation is much messier and less visceral. A larger study of the factors that contributed to the tragedy will not converge on a single point. There will be no Perry Mason moment, when all eyes turn to the one person or factor that caused so much grief. 

We must take into account everything that happened, but also those things that failed to happen. We may discover how the fire started, but not how it escalated out of control. A thousand choices were made about what precautions to take, what warnings to issue, what resources to distribute, what assistance to seek, what to protect and why.

No official report will be able to weigh how these and dozens of other factors might have arranged themselves differently to change the outcome. The county did the prudent thing to prevent the option to sue from expiring.

My neighbors upriver are facing expirations on options of their own, except their end dates are harder to define. When is Blue River no longer home? When does rebuilding become not worth the trouble? When will global warming make fire protection on forestland impossible?

The official report, whenever it is released, will not answer these questions.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at He lost a vacation home in the Holiday Farm Fire.

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.