As Western fires cause hazy skies in Chicago, residents return home to assess the damage in Oregon

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LINN COUNTY, Ore. — Hazy skies are continuing to cross the country as a result of all the smoke from wildfires raging across the west.  

Fires continue to burn Tuesday night, as so far at least 27 have died and tens of thousands have been displaced. The fires leave behind scorched earth, untold damage, and an air pollution crisis that is only beginning.  

In rural Linn County, OR, about 60 miles south of Portland, one of the most destructive fires has engulfed nearly 200,000 acres. Several fast-moving fires have laid waste to nearly 950,000 acres in Oregon.  

The area was under “Level Three” evacuation warning until Tuesday evening. People can return to their property as those restrictions have been eased, although many return only to find their homes are gone.  

Much of the city of Lyons, OR was incinerated in the Beachie Creek Fire, which is still raging over nearly 200,000 acres. In the long journey to contain the raging wildfires there, a single footprint stands out. 

“One of the firefighters that fought the back, it was so hot his boot caught fire and he stepped on the grass and it burned in his exact footprint,” Brian Yarberry said. “We really have to thank the firefighters risking their lives for material things.” 

Yarberry said the firefighters saved his son’s home in Lyons, but much of the community did not get saved. The home is now surrounded by scorched earth, blackened trees and destroyed buildings, which were reduced to ash and rubble. Some are still smoldering.  

Heavy smoke lingers in the air as a reminder of the hazards that remain. With so many displaced, turning communities into ghost towns, Yarberry said the biggest threat is to his home, not his health.

“Some of us stayed. Why? To protect the property as much as we could,” Yarberry said. “It’s hard to put into words; some of us was lucky, some of us were not. There’s nothing anyone could have done about it.”

Brad Needham returned to his Lyons home to collect the only possession that remains: a trailer, which he now plans to live in. 

His home was destroyed when a wall of flames raged through the Santium Canyon, where he lives on the north Santium River.  

But he says there’s no choice but to be resilient and rebuild. Knowing the journey will be long, he said it begins with a single step.   

“There’ll be grass here next year, we’ll replant things, it’ll be better,” Needham said.

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