After eight years of fighting wildfires, Solize Ortiz has learned to work with the challenges and dangers of her profession. The Oregon firefighter has been in smoke so thick it’s nearly impossible to breathe, and at times she’s unable to make out the faces of others. (1/14)
“Sometimes you can only see silhouettes,” Ortiz said. “You start to recognize how people walk and their mannerisms. That’s usually the best way to identify people on your crew.” (2/14)
She’s learned to gauge danger -- like when a flaming tree is about to crash to the ground, and in which direction. (3/14)
“A tree makes a lot of noise when it’s about to fall,” Ortiz said. “You have to be aware of those sounds.” (4/14)
Ortiz’s colleague Fernando Hernandez knows what it’s like to be covered in dirt and soot for days on end with no shower in sight. The longest he’s had to go without is 15 days. (5/14)
“It’s a badge of honor, unfortunately, sometimes,” said Hernandez, who’s been battling season blazes for 20 years. (6/14)
Ortiz and Hernandez are among more than 7,500 firefighters called on to battle Oregon wildfires in a season like they’ve never seen before. (7/14)
Fueled by a fierce and widespread windstorm that started on Labor Day, the fires have spread to scorch close to 1 million acres so far this year -- about double the average annual number for each of the past 10 years. (8/14)
Nine people have died. Five are missing. More than 2,200 homes and 1,500 businesses, barns or other structures have been destroyed, but many thousands more have been saved thanks to the efforts of firefighters. (9/14)
Those summoned to put out the blazes include year-round professionals who work for local fire departments or fire districts; federal agencies; the Oregon National Guard, which was summoned this year at a moment’s notice; and even a few inmate crews. (10/14)
But most are wildland firefighters who work for private companies that contract with state and federal government agencies -- with some traveling from states as far off as Arkansas and North Dakota to help. (11/14)
. @Oregonian spoke to the owner of one of those companies, Salem-based Grizzly Firefighters, and two of the company’s firefighters, Ortiz and Hernandez, during short breaks they received from their assignments last week. (12/14)
Owner Teresa Ortiz said she’s never seen a fire season like this in the 18 years since she founded her company. Some of her firefighters have had to evacuate their own homes – or have their families do so while they’re fighting blazes on the front lines. (13/14)
“There’s always a mental part of the job when you’re trying to save people’s homes,” Ortiz said. “But this year is different knowing their own homes are at risk. They’re worried about their families.”

Read the full story: (14/14)
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More from @Oregonian

26 Oct
In her weekly letter to readers, our editor @tbottomly discusses news, opinion and how the editorial board works: (1/13)
@tbottomly One of the most persistent complaints I receive is that we are biased. (2/13)
People can see bias in word choice or the framing of issues. Readers might also see bias in photo choices, story placement or whether a subject receives news coverage or not. (3/13)
Read 14 tweets
16 Oct
Voting is easier in Oregon than any other state in the nation, according to the latest analysis by a team of political scientists tracking the issue. (1/7)
“Oregon, which has one of the most progressive automatic voter registration processes and mail-in voting, maintains the first position as the easiest state in which to vote,” the researchers wrote in a summary of their findings. (2/7)
The other top states for ease of voting are Washington, Utah, Illinois and Maryland. Oregon, Utah and Washington all have permanent vote-by-mail processes. (3/7)
Read 8 tweets
22 Sep
At least six men across Oregon have been accused of intentionally setting blazes during a disastrous wildfire season that has burned more than a million acres, killed at least nine people and annihilated homes, entire towns and beloved natural areas. (1/7)
None of them have ties to left- or right-wing groups or appear to have been motivated by politics, according to police and court records reviewed by @Oregonian. (2/7)
Only one of the accused fire starters, a southern Oregon man with a history of meth use, is accused of damaging more than a dozen homes and endangering people’s lives. Prosecutors say another man in Lane County caused hundreds of acres to burn near a sleepy timber town. (3/7)
Read 8 tweets
18 Sep
Henry Kirim had ducked out of his Southeast Portland apartment to search his car for a missing bank card when a strange man rushed into his ground-floor unit, closed the door and locked it. (1/13)
Kirim’s 12-year-old son remained inside. (2/13)
Kirim fumbled for his house key, thankful he had it on the same ring as his car key, and raced to open his apartment door.

“I was so scared,” he said. (3/13)
Read 14 tweets
17 Sep
Officials have yet to identify the cause of the 170,000-acre Holiday Farm fire that ripped down the McKenzie River valley starting Labor Day. (1/9)
But residents told @Oregonian that the blaze was preceded by a power outage, a loud explosion and a shower of blue sparks from an electric line near milepost 47 on Oregon 126 – the exact location where state officials have pinpointed the start of the fire. (2/9)
Kris Brandt, like many who lived among the area’s Douglas fir forests, could hear the towering trees snapping all around him as roaring winds raced downriver for hours. (3/9)
Read 10 tweets
14 Sep
Fire raced up the hill Wednesday night, gaining momentum toward Blair Road in Scotts Mills, as several dozen men worked on building a fire line. (1/11) Image
“We probably had 20 to 30 people in there hand-falling timber,” said Mike Craig, who was operating an excavator at the time. “We were just ripping everything out of the ground and pushing it into the fire to make it contained.” (2/11)
Craig watched as flames licked the blade of a bulldozer that plowed toward the fire, the man in the cab silhouetted by the blaze. He snapped a photo with his phone, capturing a dramatic moment in the fight against the Beachie Creek fire. (3/11)
Read 12 tweets

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