By Lily Wolfson ’21
Southern Oregon was devastated by wildfires in September. Resulting air pollution from traveling smoke broke Washington’s data-monitoring systems. By mid-September, the South Obenchain Fire in Medford burned 30,500 acres and destroyed 26 homes, according to the New York Times. More than 80,000 Oregon residents had to evacuate.
Carly Heinig was born and raised in Medford, Oregon. She lived in Portland for a few years and then briefly in Alaska before returning to Medford two years ago. “Watching my home town be on fire was surreal,” Heinig said. She first had to be evacuated on September 8 and stayed at her parents’ house overnight in Phoenix before returning to her home the next morning, only to evacuate again on September 9 for several hours. Heinig got married just days after returning from evacuation.
While Heinig’s home did not suffer irreparable damage, she has a family friend who lost her home and who is now staying with Heinig’s mother. It took her friend a whole week to go through the rubble to see what was even left of her house. Even the homes that were not damaged were left without electricity for a week.
“I’ve always known climate change was an issue… the fires have opened people’s eyes to how real climate change is,” said Heinig. “Although we have had a lot of people blaming the fires on Antifa,” added Heinig. Heinig said her throat had been itchy for days because of the fires’ impact on the air quality.
Heinig advises fellow Medford residents to have a “go-bag” to prepare for evacuation in case the fires worsen in other areas. Heinig did not receive an alert and had to use her judgment to determine when it would be best to evacuate: “We didn’t have any Nixle alerts go out when evacuations were supposed to be happening. If I hadn’t been on social media, I would not have known that any of this was happening,” said Heinig.
Martin Majkut, a 45-year-old symphony conductor, from Talent, Oregon grew up in Slovakia and moved to the United States in 2003 to study—he moved to Oregon for a symphony job eleven years ago. When he arrived in Oregon, he thought it was “paradise.”
“Many people did not get an alert. We did not get an alert. We just saw the fire,” said Majkut. For weeks after the fires had subsided, Majkut would leave his house and see “burnt cars all over the place.”
Majkut and his wife, a composer whom he met on Facebook, evacuated to Medford and stayed in a house up on a hill. The fires eventually moved too close to the house he was staying at, so he and his wife evacuated even farther to Grants Pass 30 miles away and stayed with friends of a friend. From his evacuation site in Medford, Majkut could see the surrounding wilderness ablaze.