A Memorial for Lives Lost in the 2021 Heat Dome

72 trees planted for 72 lives lost in Multnomah County

On March 16th at Nadaka Nature Park in Gresham, dozens of volunteers gathered on an especially gorgeous morning, eager to plant trees. While all of our events are climate action, this one had particular significance. All of these new community trees will serve as memorial to the lives lost to the 2021 Heat Dome.

“The 2021 heat dome has brought us into stark understanding of the vulnerabilities of our neighborhoods, where the shade of trees is a precious resource,” says Yashar Vasef, Executive Director for Friends of Trees.

It’s been nearly three years since that historic heat wave with temperatures as high as 119 degrees Fahrenheit, but for many the memory is still fresh. Several families who lost loved ones during the heat dome joined the volunteers at Nadaka to mark the occasion with intentionality and reflect on the purpose of the planting event. The morning was not a somber one, because, as Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson put it in her remarks, “planting a tree is a hopeful act.”

As summer approaches, and with it a chance for another heat wave, it’s important to remember both short and long-term preparedness. We must protect the trees we have, and continue to grow our canopy, especially in neighborhoods that are designated as heat islands.

“In the face of such tragedies, it is imperative that we act decisively on the things we can control,” Yashar says. “Our efforts to plant trees are a stance against the worst outcomes of climate change.”

After remarks from leaders, crews of volunteers headed out into East County neighborhoods to plant street and yard trees that will shade the community. And family members gathered to plant an American hornbeam at Nadaka Nature Park in memory of their loved ones. One family member said they plan to return to the park each year for a family barbecue and to visit and care for the memorial tree.

“Each tree we planted helps build a shield against the worst humanitarian impacts of extreme heat,” Yashar says, “and serves as a testament to our shared commitment to building a safer, more resilient community.”


The memorial planting event was organized by Friends of Trees, Multnomah County, and the City of Gresham.