Dutchman fled forest fires US: ‘I loaded my horses and started riding’

Natural fires in the United States destroyed entire villages in the states of Oregon and California. The fire in the west of America killed at least 31 people, many are still missing. We spoke to two eyewitnesses with Dutch roots.

In Oregon, 500 000 people were ordered to evacuate or prepare for this, that is about 10% of the population in this state. The Dutchman Leon, who grew up in Venlo and has lived in Oregon for 17 years, also had to leave at breakneck speed. It was a shock. You take important things with you and things that are quickly stolen here, such as firearms, says Leon (his surname is known to the editors). And you think: should I bring my winter coat? After all, you dont know how long it will take.

Ready, set, go

And Leon still does not know that. On Monday, like all the 2,500 inhabitants of his village of Estacada, he received a message from the government. Alarm phase ready, which means getting ready for evacuation. Phase two, set, was skipped and on Wednesday the advice was go. I am lucky to have a large horse trailer in which I can also sleep. I took my horses and dogs with me and went for a ride. Now I am camping on a piece of land an hour away in Washington State

He has received photos showing that his house is still standing. Fortunately. But when can I go home again? I dont know.

Nature fires are not an unknown phenomenon in the west of the US. But never before has it really had to leave its house and hearth behind. 2020 is a difficult year anyway, my wife died a month ago. I took her ashes with me, says an emotional Leon. He smells the forest fires: This morning, for the first time, there was dew on the trailer, which is a good sign. Then it will be less dry.


In recent years, the weather has become drier and more extreme. As well as opinions on the cause of the fires, says Leon. There are two camps: one claiming that it is due to climate change, the other saying that we are not maintaining the forests properly. Both camps are yelling at each other and there is a lot of disinformation. It is, of course, always easier to blame someone else

Leon doesnt want to move. Of course I dont know how Ill feel when Im back home. But like everyone here, I have to accept that you cant control everything. Thats rooted in the people here.

The severe forest fires in the west of the US can be seen on aerial and satellite imagery:

At least 20,000 firefighters and volunteers work in different places to put out the fires. Jordan Emerson is one of them, he fights the fires as a firefighter. You dont know this kind of nature fires in the Netherlands, says Emerson, whose mother comes from Noordwijk.

He lives in Chico, two hours drive from San Francisco in the state of California. The fire doesnt reach my house, because there is no forest in a circle of 16 kilometres. I dont need to evacuate.

He knows the ravages of fire like no other. Last year he worked as a firefighter when the town of Paradise burned down completely. That sound of such a big fire is very loud and frightening. Through his work he knows how fire moves. The wind is everything. A natural fire only stops when there is no more fuel.

And that, according to Emerson, is exactly why things are going wrong now. Ten years ago we had controlled fires in the US, now they are subject to strict measures. Because of poor air quality, this is banned and the forest is overgrown everywhere. If it is dry and lightning strikes, then things go wrong

He pleaded in favour of forest-free strips, which would prevent the fire from spreading. The fire stops by land or water. Without these natural barriers, the fire only stops in a village or town. And you see that happening now.

Because of the forest fires, the sky above San Francisco is turning orange