A Smoky September in Oregon

Surreal images from the Pacific Northwest
Oregon widlfire composite image

Yaquina Head, Oregon. The left side features the area on July 4, 2019. The right side shows the same area on September 8, 2020.

Abigail Malate, Staff Illustrator

(Inside Science) -- Wildfires are a seasonal expectation in Oregon. This year, however, high temperatures and extreme weather caused fires of extraordinary intensity. These conditions affected thousands along the West Coast, with devastating effects on local communities. Smoke spread across the continental U.S. as far as the East Coast. This month, we feature a selection of images showing the streets and skies of the Beaver State.

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Walking through a neighborhood in West Salem, Oregon, in early September, photographer Andy Melton captured this eerie sight. Sidewalks, cars, and rooftops were all tinged orange from wildfire smoke covering the sky. Check out the wide shot image for the full effect. (Andy Melton)

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Tinted grey and sepia from haze, one might think this is a vintage photo that has lost its vibrance. This is a full color photo of Fishermen’s Bend Recreation Site from this month, scorched by the Beachie Creek wildfire that blazed through the area on Sept. 9. The recreation area was home to campsites and hiking trails, and provided access to the North Santiam River east of Salem, Oregon. The Bureau of Land Management offers virtual tours of Fishermen’s Bend, showcasing the landscape when it was green and unaffected. (Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington)

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As part of the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, the European Space Agency imaged Oregon’s wildfires from above. The left is an optical image showing smoke as it billows westward. The right-side image is a composite that captures SWIR bands -- nonvisible light -- to see past the smoke and reveal the affected areas on the ground. (ESA)

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An orange haze filled the sky at Yaquina Head, a shoreside garden that looks out onto the Pacific Ocean north of Newport. Normally, one would go there to enjoy blue skies, ocean waves, and possible sightings of coastal sea life. On Sept. 8, the view was so obscured that the Yaquina Head Lighthouse was barely visible. This portrait is especially eerie when compared with an image of the headland taken just last year from a similar vantage point. (Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington)

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The wildfires’ smoke engulfed drivers during their commutes on Oregon Route 22, a highway that runs through Salem. Taken on Sept. 10, the image shows the extent by which daily life was affected by the fires. (Oregon Department of Transportation)

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On Sept. 9, Chris Branam of Oregon State University took this picture of a tomato in Corvallis, Oregon. It has been dusted with ash that fell over the region. Branam captured a small, seemingly ordinary moment enveloped by a tumultuous time. (Oregon State University)

Author Bio & Story Archive

Abigail Malate is a graphic designer at the American Institute of Physics, which produces the editorially independent news service Inside Science.