Rising temperatures and a growing wildfire are creating dangerous fire clouds and firestorms that can generate their own lightning in the skies above southern Oregon.
The Bootleg Fire, the largest blaze currently burning in the US, has torched more than 241,000 acres (377 square-miles) since it started July 6 in Klamath County. It’s only 7% contained as of Friday.
As heat and smoke from large fires rise skyward, they can create storms comprised of what are known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds. These thunderheads produce their own weather, including tornadoes in rare cases, which can then spark new fires. It’s a vicious cycle.
The Oregonian blaze is also creating pyrocumulus, or flammagenitus, clouds – the second word is Latin for “created from flame.”
These fire clouds consist of up to 6-mile-high columns of smoke and ash that are visible from more than 100 miles away. The Bootleg Fire has generated multiple pyrocumulus clouds of this size for the last four days in a row, the Associated Press reported Friday.
Authorities said the clouds form between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. local time everyday, as heat from the baking ground below rises skyward.
‘Fire-breathing dragon of clouds’
“Pyrocumulus clouds above active fires, especially large fires, are relatively common,” Nick Nauslar from the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho told the Los Angeles Times.
But if you spot a bank of thicker, taller thunderheads looming over an intense wildfire, those are almost always pyrocumulonimbus clouds, Nauslar said.
NASA describes pyrocumulonimbus storms as the “fire-breathing dragon of clouds.” They can also generate hundreds of lightning strokes, which in turn can spark more blazes.
In general, thunderstorms form when lots of warm, moist air from the ground rise into the sky. As it enters the lowest part of the atmosphere, that air cools, and then sinks closer to Earth – where it warms up again, and subsequently rises. That cycle of rising and falling air is known as convection, and births cumulonimbus, or thunder, clouds.
But when that heat and moisture rise from a smoky wildfire rather than the ground, the convection creates pyrocumulonimbus clouds.
These anvil-shaped clouds can generate rain like other thunderstorms. Often, though, they unleash powerful, blasts of air known as “downbursts,” rather than water droplets. In pushing dry air back down toward the ground, these downbursts can scatter a blaze’s embers and smoke across large distances. That fuels the flames that generated the storm in the first place.
In September 2020, the Creek Fire in California created one of the largest types of these clouds ever seen in the US – It measured 175,893 acres, or 275 square miles, in size (an area more than three times the size of Seattle).
Rising temperatures and drier air are associated with more frequent and more intense wildfires. And as wildfires increase in size and severity, fire-generated storms, too, are becoming more common.
In 2002, Canada, the US, and Mexico saw about 17 such storms in total. About two decades later, the average number of annual pyrocumulonimbus events had jumped to 25 in western North America alone, Yale360 reported.
Grocery stores in Washington state have been forced to pull perishable goods from shelves and turn off entire refrigerated sections in order to combat record-shattering temperatures.
On Monday, several locations in Oregon and Washington state broke all-time records, as temperatures rose as high as 116 degrees. The heat has caused several power outages throughout the region, and taken a toll on local businesses.
The weather makes it difficult for refrigeration and freezer units to maintain low temperatures. An Albertsons spokesperson told Fox Seattle that the heat caused the grocery store’s refrigeration units to malfunction at a store in Mill Creek, Washington. The grocer was forced to pull several perishable goods from its shelves, including meats, lettuce, and dairy items. The store posted signs warning customers it would not be able to provide several refrigerated foods and cordoned off the empty aisles.
Other stores throughout the state have implemented similar tactics. Multiple Fred Meyers in Washington state put plastic covers over refrigerated goods to keep in the cool air, according to dozens of posts on social media. A Fred Meyer spokesperson was not immediately available to comment.
Heatwaves like these are becoming the deadliest weather conditions across the US. According to a report by The Washington Post, some locations may reach temperature and humidity levels too intense for human survival. On Tuesday, The Seattle Times reported two people had died and hundreds of people had been admitted to the hospital due to the triple-digit temperatures.
Cooling equipment such as air conditioners have been struggling to fight the heat, showcasing a global need for more effective ways for cities to cool down, Axios reported.
Two Fred Meyer shoppers said on social media that at least two locations have turned on roof sprinklers to help maintain air conditioning and freezer units.
Washington state shoppers took to social media to post pictures of grocery stores with empty freezer aisles and refrigerated units wrapped in plastic. Some said aisles of Gatorade and electrolyte drinks had been completely cleared out, others said large crowds had gathered in the refrigerated sections of the stores to beat the heat.
Several Seattle restaurants and cafes have also shut down due to refrigeration and air conditioning issues. Melissa Miranda, the owner of a popular downtown Filipinx restaurant Musang, told Eater Seattle the heat has created unsustainable working conditions for staff.
“Most importantly it’s my concern for the staff,” Miranda told the food blog. “Working in these conditions is insane.”
The goal of the Greater Idaho movement is straightforward: move Idaho’s border to include most of rural Oregon (and eventually even parts of northern California) – but the likelihood of success is extremely low.
The movement has recently picked up steam, as seven counties have now voted in favor of considering or pursuing the move. Organizers say Idaho’s conservative values align better with those of rural Oregon; they argue conservatives in the solidly blue state are not adequately represented in government.
But state legislatures in both Oregon and Idaho, as well as the US Congress, would have to agree on the move, and it’s not entirely clear why any of the three parties would.
However, experts told Insider the effort is far from impossible and that the idea of moving state lines is not unprecedented. One expert said changing the physical makeup of the United States is not only possible, but almost inevitable.
Moving state lines is not unprecedented, but “Greater Idaho” is unique
In American history, there are multiple examples of states being broken up.
Before North Dakota and South Dakota were established in 1889, there was the Territory of Dakota. West Virginia was formed in 1861 when it separated from Confederate Virginia. Maine became a state in 1820 after voting to secede from Massachusetts. And Kentucky broke off from Virginia to become the 15th state in 1792.
But while moving state lines is not unheard of, the efforts of the Greater Idaho movement stand out for a couple reasons.
First, experts told Insider they did not know of an example where a large portion of a state broke off to join another state, rather than create a new one.
Second, in past examples of state-secession movements, there is typically a clear-cut problem being solved.
In the case of Greater Idaho, there is not a single, well-defined issue that would be solved by secession. Reasons to secede, according to the movement’s website, include: American values, law and order, lower taxes, safety, a less regulated economy, and feeling represented in state government.
The movement’s leaders previously told Insider’s Sarah Al-Arshani Idaho’s values match up better with the values of rural Oregon, and that they want to be better represented in state government. But in past state secession stories, reasons were more concrete.
When Kentucky split from Virginia in 1792, it was largely because people who lived there believed the state government was not doing enough to clear the land of Native Americans, who, understandably, did not want to leave. Despite the reason being immoral, it provided clear motivation for people to form their own state that would better protect their interests.
As for secessionist movements today, including efforts in California and Texas to break away and form their own countries, Kreitner said there’s nothing quite like that, at least not yet.
“I think there’s been a bit of a search for actual issues to hang that sentiment on, but mostly it’s been futile,” he said.
Changing the US map could be a good thing as ‘most state lines are fairly arbitrary’
But that isn’t to say all secessionist movements are equally far-fetched, and Kreitner doesn’t think Americans should “clutch our pearls” too much over the Greater Idaho movement. In fact, he said, reconsidering state lines could be a good thing.
“Most state lines are fairly arbitrary, especially in the west, where they’re often right angles,” Kreitner said. “They are not meaningful distinctions, and they should be looked at again. It could make our politics more rational.”
Buckley told Insider the premise of his book, which focuses on efforts to secede from the United States, is that secession is “far more likely than you think and it may not be such a terrible thing.”
As for Greater Idaho, Buckley said it could be a win for all parties. Idaho could expand its state and, in turn, its resources. Oregon lawmakers could benefit from the change as a sort of gerrymandering, further establishing their party’s dominance.
“If you’re a Democratic politician in Oregon, you might think it’s not a bad idea to ditch Republican voters in the state,” he said.
Meanwhile, the proposed population shift is so small that it likely wouldn’t impact congressional representation. And unlike efforts aimed at Washington, DC, statehood, expanding Idaho wouldn’t add to the US Senate.
And some rural Oregonians would likely get a government that’s more in tune with them, something that Kreitner said seems increasingly important after the vastly different state responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
As for rearranging state lines, Kreitner said it’s not clear exactly what that would look like. One proposal, known as bioregionalism, suggests organizing our political, cultural and economic systems around natural features, such as mountain ranges and watersheds, would lead to a more sustainable and just society.
Kreitner said the country’s refusal to consider the idea prevents the exploration and development of worthwhile solutions. But as long as our current political divisions continue, the idea of seceding, either from the country or from individual states, will likely persist as well.
“There’s a lot of talk in all parts of the country about discontent with the current arrangements,” he said. “It’s too appealing, given America’s history.”
A study from Imperial College London scientists released in April, for example, found that psilocybin – the active compound in magic mushrooms – works about as well as a leading drug (escitalopram) to treat patients with moderate or severe major depressive disorder.
Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, told Insider reporter Yeji Jesse Lee, “What’s on the table now is the prospect that psilocybin therapy could be an alternative to SSRIs, if it’s at least as good.”
“What we’re showing is that people could consider psilocybin therapy earlier on in the course of a depression,” Carhart-Harris added.
With a growing body of research showing that psychedelic substances have potential medical uses, local governments across the US have begun to take notice.
In 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use in supervised settings. Oregon last November also decriminalized the possession of small amounts magic mushrooms – as did Washington, DC. Major cities like Denver, Colorado and Santa Cruz, California have also decriminalized mushrooms.
As views shift on magic mushrooms, recent polling also shows strong support among Americans for legalizing marijuana. A Pew Research Center survey released last month found 91% of US adults support legalizing marijuana in some form, with 31% backing legalizing it only for medical use. A majority of US adults (60%) supported legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical use, the poll found, with less than 10% of adults saying it should not be legal at all.
At the moment, recreational marijuana is already legal for adults over the age of 21 in 16 states and Washington, DC, while medical marijuana is legal in 36.
“We want out from underneath Oregon’s governance and go underneath Idaho’s governance, which we tend to match up better with, as far as our values go,” the group’s president, Mike McCarter, told Insider. “Now for 20 years plus, we’ve been trying to change the makeup and improve the makeup of the Oregon legislature but when you haven’t got the vote, there’s not much you can do about it.”
The ballot measures called on officials in each county to start considering the move and are the first step of adding the region to Idaho.
Leaders of the movement told Insider the effort started at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic after the GOP in the state attempted to recall governor Kate Brown.
“We’ve had two legislative sessions in our state Capitol where Republicans walked out and denied votes because for these rural communities, that was their last-ditch effort to make sure their livelihoods were protected. So this was the natural solution to all those and learning from all those other experiences,” Keaton Ems, a spokesman for the group, told Insider.
Ems said he’s hoping the group’s goals could be met in the next four to six years but says they’re taking small steps alongside the legislative sessions to slowly push the effort along.
McCarter told Insider the proposed new border would encompass 18 full and three partial Oregon counties and account for about 860,000 of Oregon’s population.
While that’s only 21% of the state’s population, the landmass is more than 70%, a figure that McCarter said highlighted how centralized the state’s government is.
“You add those rural counties and that area to Idaho’s current area, it would make Idaho the third largest state in the union after, after Alaska and Texas,” McCarter said.
An effort to change the border would require the approval of the Oregon and Idaho state legislatures, as well as the US Congress, but McCarter says he sees no reason why it wouldn’t go through.
McCarter said in the seven counties that voted in favor of the effort, support ranged from 54% to a high of 74%, but two counties have so far also voted against it.
Rural Oregonians say they have no voice in state legislature
Ems and McCarter said the issue behind the push to join Idaho is centered around the fact that Oregonians living in the rural areas don’t feel represented by the state legislature.
The vast majority of the population lives in urban centers and skews Democrat, while those living in the rural area tend to skew Republican.
“78% of the people are in the urban area, more or less in the Willamette Valley in Portland. They control the legislature completely. They have a supermajority. That’s why they don’t care to listen to those representatives from central or eastern Oregon. They’re dealing with issues around urban folks and their social agenda is to be a sanctuary state to allow the homeless people to come in, to reduce the laws on drugs, to remove or lessen than the budget for police officers,” McCarter said.
“We’re not saying that that is wrong. We don’t agree with it, but they’re dealing with those issues and those aren’t the issues that we have. Rural Oregon is traditional, has traditional values. We’re more into our communities, more into our schools, more into supporting law enforcement. Right is right and wrong is wrong,” he added.
Ems said the majority had “no incentive” to include those in the rural parts as part of the decision-making process and those living in “concrete jungles” are simply telling those “who live and steward the land how to run their own land.”
McCarter said for those in the rural parts, it’s like they’re being “taxed without representation.”
The group’s Facebook page was labeled as “insurrectionist”
The Greater Idaho Movement is working to directly send information to families living in rural counties, especially as they work to get the idea on the ballot in more counties.
He said they’ve been successful at sending direct mail to families in these communities and going out and hosting events. McCarter said the group’s Facebook page was shut down on January 6 after the Capitol Riot when the social media company said objected to six posts and labeled the group’s page as insurrectionists.
“When Facebook removed a lot of people from Facebook [following the January 6 Capitol Riot], we were one of them who lost our page and we were not talking insurrection or anything. We’re strictly by the book,” McCarter said.
Ems said he wanted it to be clear that this isn’t a “succession” effort, only a move to align the rural parts of Oregon with a government that best speaks for them.
He said the group has spoken to Idaho legislators who are in favor of the effort, but there hasn’t been a lot of conversation with Oregon’s legislation which is currently in session. Ems said he’s working on speaking with legislators in Oregon once the session is over to get the ball rolling.
McCarter said Oregon’s legislature start paying attention to their cause now that seven counties have already voted in favor of the effort.
“It does send a voice up the line and so our goal there is to get more counties to speak on how they feel about it,” he said.
Fully vaccinated Oregonians can now go mask-less in most places. But if you plan on heading to a private business, be prepared to show proof of your COVID-19 vaccination status.
On May 13, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated Americans will no longer have to mask up as rigorously in most indoor and outdoor locations. And shortly after, on May 18, Oregon updated its face mask and physical distancing protocols to match the CDC’s overhauled guidelines.
As per the CDC’s guidelines, several private companies have also already lifted their own face covering protocols for fully vaccinated customers pending state and local mandates. And a few of these companies – including Costco and Trader Joe’s – have announced they will be relying on the “honor system” instead of requiring proof of vaccination from mask-less customers.
However, this trust system could create “great confusion,” Larry Barton, a professor of crisis management and public safety at University of Central Florida, told Insider.
“I have zero confidence if I’m a retailer that just because someone claims that they’re vaccinated, that they are,” Barton said. “It could be that they’re lazy and they don’t want to put on a mask, or it could be that they’re an anti-vaxxer and simply tell me what they want me to hear.”
Oregon is seemingly trying to stay away from this “honor system” with its new guidance. However, the state’s decision to require businesses to request proof of vaccination from un-masked patrons could create a new set of complications.
And now, several businesses in the state are worried about “putting their frontline workers in a potentially untenable position when dealing with customers,” Nathaniel Brown, a spokesperson for Oregon Business and Industry, told the New York Times’s Bryan Pietsch. OBI represents over 1,600 businesses in the state, according to its website.
“What will we have in society to prove vaccination?” Barton said. “We’re a long, long way from that.”
Barton explains that there are three possibilities of what a customer might do if a business asks them for proof of vaccination: the patron could either show their CDC vaccine card, verification of the vaccine on an app, or defy the protocols and not show any confirmation at all.
“We have serious concerns about the practicality of requiring business owners and workers to be the enforcer,” Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of Oregon Business and Industry, told Insider in an email statement.”We have raised our concerns with the state and asked regulators to give business owners maximum flexibility when it comes to vaccine verification processes.”
A GOP state lawmaker was charged Friday, after video appears to show him open the door to the Oregon State Capitol, allowing right-wing protestors to enter the building.
During a demonstration on December 21 of last year, surveillance video appears to show state Rep. Mike Nearman physically opening a door to the Capitol building without shutting it behind him, allowing protestors waiting outside the Oregon Capitol to quickly enter the building.
In the video, Oregon State Police later arrived to push protestors back outside and standing in the open door while facing off a crowd of protestors. Four people were arrested in the incident, which was later declared an unlawful assembly.
On Wednesday, Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek said during a press conference that it was Nearman who opened the door “to let demonstrators into the building.”
“This was a serious, serious breach of public trust,” Kotek told reporters Wednesday.
Democratic lawmakers accused Nearman of putting lawmakers and Capitol staffers in danger for his actions in a formal complaint filed in January. The complaint described Nearman’s actions as “completely unacceptable, reckless, and so severe that it will affect people’s ability to feel safe working in the Capitol or even for the legislature,” citing a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
“He let a group of rioters enter the Capitol, despite his knowledge that only authorized personnel are allowed in the building due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the complaint said.
Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson filed charges against Nearman on Friday in connection with the December 21 incident.
He faces one count of official misconduct in the first degree for “unauthorized exercise of his official duties, with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another,” and another count on criminal trespass in the second degree for aiding and abetting “another to unlawfully and knowingly enter and remain in and upon the premises of the Oregon State Capitol.”
Nearman did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on the charges filed by the Marion County district attorney.
Myrtle Beach will be the first city to see new flights, with CEO Gary Kelly saying in a statement that the destination aims to serve summer travelers and golfers, in particular. Golf bags count as one of the two complimentary bags that Southwest flyers can check, with the airline coining “golf bags fly free” as a play on one of its classic slogans, “bags fly free.”
The coastal Carolinian city adds to Southwest’s existing chain of destinations on the southeast Atlantic shoreline. Savannah, Georgia and Miami were was added to Southwest’s network in 2020 and the Myrtle Beach addition gives the carrier coverage at nearly every major airport on the Atlantic coast from South Carolina to south Florida.
Bellingham, closer to Vancouver, Canada than Seattle, will then see flight in the second half of 2021 as it serves a cross-border market. Canadians frequently drive across the US border to catch flights to save on the taxes levied on international flights by the US and Canadian governments.
“Following the reopening of the Canadian border, we expect a return of the value-minded travelers who already drive to this alternative airport to escape high fares and taxes-and that’s very, very typical for Southwest destinations,” Kelly said.
The US-Canada border is currently closed for non-essential travel, a pandemic-era policy nearing its one-year anniversary, but it may be reopened by the time Southwest starts service. US and Canadian officials renew the policy on a monthly basis and the accelerated vaccine rollout in the US may encourage reopening talks.
Southwest joins the likes of Washington state’s hometown airline Alaska Airlines and ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air in serving Bellingham.
Eugene will only be Southwest’s second destination in the Beaver State behind Portland, surrounded by national forests and within driving distance from Oregon’s Pacific coast and Crater Lake National Park. Southwest won’t be alone in the city as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Alaska, and Allegiant serve Eugene from cities around the US.
Flights to Eugene are also slated for the second half of 2021.
Routes have not yet been announced to any of the new cities but Southwest will likely offer service to nearby bases that offer connections across the country. For Bellingham and Eugene, that likely means flights to Denver, Dallas, Las Vegas, or Phoenix while Myrtle Beach might see service to Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, or Nashville, Tennessee.
During a special legislative session Monday at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, far-right protesters stormed the statehouse as lawmakers were inside.
Anti-lockdown protesters, some of whom were armed, called on lawmakers and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to reopen the state and end COVID-19 restrictions.
Lawmakers met early Monday morning to review five bills related to COVID-19 relief, including an extension of Oregon’s eviction moratorium and relief for victims of regional wildfires.
By 8:30 a.m., as protesters coalesced around the Capitol door, Oregon state police declared an unlawful assembly, according to authorities, according to authorities and local reports.
According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, among the dozens of protesters were members of Patriot Prayer, a far-right, violent group sympathetic to white supremacists, based in Vancouver, Washington. Local Proud Boy affiliates also attended and were heavily armed, according to The Daily Beast.
After local police declared an unlawful assembly, the group of protesters grew angrier and chanted “let us in” and “Arrest Kate Brown!” As protesters ignored the decree, they moved in on the capitol door and clashed with police, who were wearing gas masks, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
According to Oregon State Police, protesters sprayed police with bear spray and other “chemical agents.” Two hours after protesters broke into the Capitol, Police pushed them out and made more arrests, with the Oregon state police announcing four arrests made today.
“When people attempted to come in to the building they actually used pepper spray and other things on officers. In return we used those to separate ourselves and get them to hold that spot. So I don’t know what all was used but I know at least pepper ball was used,” Lt. Treven Upkes of Salem Police told the Statesman Journal.
In videos shot by local journalists, anti-lockdown protesters can be seen kicking and jamming a flagpole into the statehouse doors to break the glass before entering.
In other videos (and in response to being filmed), protesters are seen assaulting and intimidating members of the press covering the protests.
Sergio Olmos, a journalist with Oregon Public Broadcasting, filmed Brian Hayes of the Salem Statesman being physically assaulted and followed by anti-lockdown protesters as he photographs of the attempted break-in.
According to OPB, at least one state senator addressed the crowd in support. During the legislative session, Republican State Senator Dallas Heard reportedly rebuked the Capitol’s mask requirement.
“If you had not done such great evil to my people and had simply asked me to ear my mask, I would have,” Heard said, ripping off his mask. “But you commanded it, and therefore I declare my right to protests against your false authority and remove my mask.”
Heard later accused state senators of engaging in a “campaign against the people and the children of God.”