W. MI native deals with Oregon wildfires

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Dangerous flames and toxic smoke continue to threaten the West Coast. Thousands of firefighters continue to battle these deadly blazes across several states. 

More than 3.2 million acres reduced to rubble and ash as fires continue smoldering. Authorities say 24 people have died in California and many families still don’t know where their loved ones are.

The smoke has travelled thousands of miles, making the air quality in some states the worst in the world. 

In West Michigan, we see the smoke present most in our sunrises and sunsets, a hazy sky giving the sun glowing orange and red hue

The fires out west have burned, some uncontrolled for weeks. The El Dorado Fire in California, which was allegedly started by a gender reveal gone wrong, is only one of dozens of fires actively burning up and down the West Coast.

Ashley Wildeman is a West Michigan native, a professional forester by trade and a Michigan State University graduate who now lives in Oregon, only miles away from the Archie Fire. 

Wildeman explains the entire county she lives in is currently in a “level one” or “get ready” phase. If things worsen, she’ll be forced to leave her home. 

“I packed my car and I was ready to go just so that if we went up to level two and it was moving that quickly, that we could get out as soon as a level three hit,” Wildeman said. “Growing up in Michigan, I didn’t worry about fire. I had, you know, learned about prescribed burning in college, but I had never witnessed one.”

Evacuation levels are explained one through three. Get ready, be set and go. 

“I live in Sutherland, Oregon, which is right outside of Roseburg where the Archie Fire is burning,” Wildeman said. “We currently have several different levels of fire evacuations right now. As of last week, they’ve put all of Douglas County into level one. Then the updates for level two and three have been coming out intermittently.”

As more and more fires ravage the West Coast, Wildeman explains she believes the situation is worsening, made worse by low precipitation in the last few months.

“I think it is getting worse. It all has to do with the weather in an entire year,” Wildeman said. “If you have low precipitation and low snowpack in the winter like we had and then you have hot, dry summers, that’s going to make for trees and habitats and an environment that are in a drought. So there just isn’t enough water to have a healthy tree or a healthy forest and one spark, is all it takes.”

Managing forests is a difficult job but a healthy timber industry, Wildeman explains, can help the overall health of a forest and reduce the chances of devastating wildfire. 

“I am very thankful that the community I live in has a booming timber industry,” Wildeman said. I’ve seen firsthand how proper forest management can really mitigate destructive forest fires. While I haven’t seen the effects of this fire yet. I can say proper management helps fire crews considerably in situations like this.”

Like the crews on standby in West Michigan, crews out west put everything else on hold to assist people in need. Wildeman says it’s inspiring and encouraging to see people help their neighbors.

“There are so many people who drop everything to go fight the fire if they can, including some of them while their families are being evacuated,” Wildeman said. “It’s a part of life out here. People say no, I’m going to go. I’m going to help. Even people who can’t fight fire or don’t fight fire in this community, find ways to help. You’ll see people helping move livestock and horses, offering places to stay. I’m just thankful for their generosity.”

CORRECTION: It was previously reported that the Walker Fire Department was on standby to respond to the wildfires on the West Coast. The fire department is not on standby, according to city officials.