Quad-City native ‘Hawkeye’ Herman updates experience with Oregon wildfire

Local News

Photo provided by Michael “Hawkeye” Herman

Quad-City native Michael “Hawkeye” Herman, well-known blues musician and educator, continues to adjust to devastation near his home in Talent, Oregon, in an area devastated by wildfire.

Last week, the power came on, a relief to Herman and his wife, who were among those forced to evacuate the area when the fire crept close to their house.

The area, he said, has had infrequent wind storms in the past 20 years that he has lived in a valley. The storms, he said are strong enough to blow down fences, but they never lasted for more than two hours.

What happened during the fire was a storm of 35- to more than 45-mph winds blowing north-northwest for more than 30 hours straight. That made it impossible for firefighters to set up a line in front of it.

“All they could do was take up posts on the sidelines of the fire and hope to contain it laterally,” he said. “The choppers and 727 did most of the fire fighting.”

The wind was strong for so long it was a crucial external factor that blew the fire up the valley in one direction for the duration. “It was so strong that it pushed and fed the fire for hours … and the wind/weather created by the fire itself, as in most fires, was negligible in this fire,” he said.

He emphasized the wind pattern was not sporadic. “It was a consistent external factor, not an internal fire factor.

“That’s why we had to stay up all night to monitor the direction … to make sure the external factor wind storm kept blowing parallel to our shelter point, not shifting in our direction.”

“Had the windstorm died down, then the fire would have been able to dictate weather and wind and fire spread direction on its own, serendipitously.”

All trees and power/utility poles in the huge burned-out areas in the region are gone, as well as buildings. “Boulder Creek is very very bad, but here we have 1,000 homes in Talent alone that are gone, totally gone, nothing left but rubble, ash and nails litter the ground … and Phoenix up the road from us, is still closed to residents because they suffered damage is even worse.”

There are no salvageable partial remains of buildings. “They were either totally destroyed or totally spared,” he said.

“The ground in devastated areas is covered/littered with fine ash and it appears that barrels and barrels of dangerous nails were dumped everywhere because that’s all that survived from the buildings/homes totally leveled and gone,” he said. “Also, there is no mail service for awhile and we’re not going to go 14 miles to the USPS substation and stand in line for over an hour with other victims to pick up our mail … bills that need paying. We’re going to wait until we have delivery,” he said.

There was no sunshine for more than a week.

“The visibility has been only 1/4 mile or even less the entire week,” he said.

He wanted to share an important lesson. “Battery-operated and solar electronics like flashlights and radios for emergency use are pretty much useless unless you bring a huge supply of batteries with you, and solar-powered items will not charge if there is no sunshine due to clouds or heavy smoke.”

Fortunately, he has two wind-up powered flashlights, and always keeps one in the car.
“If you’re caught in a situation like we were where you have no access to acquiring more/extra batteries and there is no sunshine to charge solar, you need the option of wind-up powered items for lighting and communication.”

He also recommends a USB charger adapter for a cell phone or iPad that goes into the cigarette lighter receptacle in the car. That way, a cell phone can remain charged if your car does not already have a charging outlet for USB items.

Herman wrote a much-heard song on “The Great Flood of ‘93” that hit the Quad-City area. Then, because of the flood song, in 2005 the “BBC-Today” news program asked hime to write a song about Hurricane Katrina, so he wrote “Katrina, Oh Katrina (Hurricane Blues)” that was heard by the 6 million listeners of the show, the BBC’s Saturday evening news program.

He says now the question is whether he should “risk becoming known forever as a disaster song specialist?”

“After I get calmed down enough from the recent tribulations and gather my thoughts, perhaps the Muse will ‘call on me’ to write a blues song about the recent conflagration that engulfed my life,” Herman said, thankful he’s now sleeping in his own bed.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.