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What Else Might Spread Like Wildfire This Summer?

July 10th, 2020 by dk

Think of the current public health crisis as lightning, seen quickly from a distant source. Then there’s a pause. The thunder clap of economic disaster has only begun to roll our way. Bankruptcies, layoffs, foreclosures and evictions have been artificially halted by government interventions. We can cover our ears for only so long.

For a culture that values prosperity above all else, it will be a rude awakening. We’ve been blissfully unaware of the consequences of COVID-19 so far in Lane County. Many of us may know somebody who has tested positive, but no one who has gotten gravely ill. Economic distress will be harder to miss.

Favorite restaurants will close down. Friends and neighbors will need work when their pandemic disaster funds expire. Those who have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments will be removed from their homes before social services can function again at peak capacity.

City and state budgets will almost certainly face draconian cuts, leaving citizens less safe and less served. Even if the federal government intervenes, it will stall but not stem the tide. Deficits themselves will eventually cause concern. If inflation ramps up, those who have enough money will need more to stay even.

What more can be added to this fearful feast of forebodings? As disasters around us spread like wildfire, don’t forget to worry about wildfires.

The beginning of our summer season in Lane County has been cooler and wetter than usual, but that’s not likely to continue into August and September. Once the air warms a bit more in the mountains, lightning and the fires they start will become more frequent.

Nobody knows exactly how fire crews will be able to protect us from spreading fires while also protecting themselves from spreading the virus. Social distancing isn’t exactly compatible with the rapid response necessary to contain a fire.

Fire crews typically work shoulder-to-shoulder, ride in trucks to a safe clearing at the end of their shift, and camp close together overnight. None of that will be the norm this season, but it’s unrealistic to expect fire management staff to completely reinvent how they do their work.

Personal safety concerns and funding constraints may tempt officials to let fires on public lands burn themselves out naturally. This is not uncommon on land where property and lives are not at risk. But this summer’s calculation will not be so simple.

“COVID-19 primarily affects the lungs, [so] people are going to be more likely to develop severe symptoms if they have certain types of respiratory diseases,” public health expert Marcia Castro told Politico. “And those respiratory diseases can be made much worse because of pollutants due to fires.”

Summer breezes could carry smoke our way, bringing more deaths to our valley. Hospital ventilators may quickly be in short supply. 

I wouldn’t blame you if you began watching for the four horsemen of the apocalypse right about now. East Africa is seeing its worst locust invasion in a century, but that’s one epic plague that hasn’t reached America — at least not yet.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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