When Heat Waves, Wildfires, and Drought Affect Oregon and Washington


Earlier in the summer, a day laborer laying irrigation lines at a nursery just south of Portland, Ore. died. The official cause of death was declared “heat-related”.

It was 104 degrees – a few days later it turned into a brutal heatwave that was becoming more and more common in many parts of the country. Mussels and oysters cooked in shells along the Washington coast. Record temperatures and strong winds fueled one of the biggest forest fires in the United States.

Droughts, megafires and heatwaves are descending on the Pacific Northwest as the effects of climate change alter the landscape. They have forced ranchers, field workers, and government regulators to navigate the new extreme conditions.

But visits to several ranches in Oregon’s Rogue Valley and in Southern Washington last month showed that the response can often feel impromptu and at times inadequate.

Policymakers in Oregon and Washington have recently created safety regulations to protect workers. Just after the devastating heatwave in June, Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered adoption with the state’s Occupational Health and Safety agency. emergency rules for any workplace where conditions can lead to heat sickness.

The rules, which took effect on August 9, require employers to provide access to shady, cool drinking water on farms and other outdoor areas when temperatures reach 80 degrees, and additional requirements to offer more breaks and periodic health checks when they reach 90 degrees.

The rules also temporary accommodation for field workersTo keep rooms at 78 degrees or below, such as those with H-2A agricultural visas. Washington State has created similar emergency rules to manage extreme weather this year, joining Minnesota and California, which have also implemented heat safety regulations that have applied to farms in recent years.

The new guards on the northwest floor may seem to come together: sun-scorched plastic benches, pop-up tents for shade, drinks set in paddling pools.

Farms also began shifts that worked odd hours or overnight to combat the heat.

The Oregon Farm Bureau, an industry group, supported the new rules, noting that most of their farmers are taking safety precautions, including access to shade, water, and extra breaks on their farms. But the group also said it was difficult to adopt all the rules, as they come into effect in the middle of the harvest season.

“There is a breaking point at some point in terms of rules, regulations and natural disasters,” said Anne Marie Moss, spokesperson for the group. “We need more federal and state government programs to keep farms sustainable.”

Employees of a farm in southern Oregon who asked not to be identified for fear of punishment by their employers this week described the cramped living conditions in temporary housing that made it difficult to escape the outside heat.

In one unit, the windows were completely sheathed to keep out heat and light, with little protection from the elements. In a 20-square-metre room with six rows of bunk beds, small fans were tied to the beds with rags.

Forest fires are also worst air quality in the country. This week, workers in Medford worked in temperatures of 94 degrees with an air quality index of 154. unhealthy according to federal standards.

New emergency rules in Oregon require employers to provide field workers with masks that block very fine particulate matter when the air quality index reaches 100.

The dangers of air quality and heat are exacerbated by the continuing risk of the coronavirus pandemic. The Medford area was among the highest growth rates in the world. Covid cases in the United States.

A worker at a Medford vineyard who asked to be identified only as Beatriz because of her precarious status as a migrant worker from Mexico said field conditions had become extremely harsh recently. While his employer provided water to the workers, he noted that there was little shade for cover during their 6am to 3pm shift.

The heat and wildfire smoke worries him, but not because of health concerns. 38-year-old Beatriz, like the others, gets paid as much as she can choose. “Grapes go to waste with the smoke,” he said. “It also affects our award because we don’t get paid for rotten grapes.”

Some ranchers questioned whether they should be in business. This week, instead of picking pears, people at Meyer Orchards in Medford were cutting trees and uprooting a farm that had been in operation for more than a century.

Like much of the West, Oregon is in the grip of drought. In large parts of the state, the water level is extremely low. United States Drought MonitorIncluding the river valley where the Meyer garden is located. NS appearance Not promising, according to forecasters.

“There has never been a drought this severe,” said fourth-generation Kurt Meyer, who manages the orchard. “After 111 years, we didn’t have much choice. You cannot farm without water.”

The orchard is 115 acres and Mr Meyer estimates it costs $350,000 a year to grow the fruit. This year, he said, that money is irreversible.

“The industry will have to go where the water is,” Mr. Meyer said. “I no longer see Rogue Valley as one big farming community.”


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