Posts Tagged ‘clackamas county fires’

I always fall off the wagon when it comes to writing and summertime. I spend it OUTSIDE. However, at the moment – and for the past few days – I have been unable to be outside.

I am listening to Band of Heathens’ “Hurricane” as I begin this post. Ironically, our son and his family are weathering Hurricane Sally in the Florida panhandle.

At least he’s getting rain. We just came out of another long dry summer in the Pacific Northwest making it something like seven years of drought. That added to years of poor forest management, and an unprecedented early windstorm, and our forests went up in flames. Fast moving firestorm forest fire flames. Devastating fires in some areas of the state: Jackson County, Lincoln County, Marion County, and Clackamas County with entire communities wiped out. The Beachie Fire in Marion County and southern Clackamas County wiped out several small hamlets down the Santiam Canyon. Friends of mine lost their home outside of Otis, Oregon, in Lincoln County.

I would have stayed outside, playing in my garden, ignoring the siren call of my blog and the duty call of inside housework except for those fires. Smoke from the Beachie Fire and the Riverside Fire in Clackamas County shut down any outdoor activity for this asthmatic early last week, shortly after we raked up most of the oak leaves the winds blew into our yard. The sun and moon turned red. The air turned orange. The winds gusted into Wednesday evening, but on Thursday morning the world went silent around us. Silent as a snow day.

And dark as night.

Thursday, the 10th emergency services started to publish Evacuation Levels. The Arabian horse rescue I support decided preemptively to move all 28 horses out of their barn near Estacada (ess tah KAY dah). Originally, evac centers were set up in Molalla (MO la la), but by Friday morning, Molalla was under Level 2 evacuation warning and everything was moved here, to Oregon City, some 15 miles north (or so). Colton, Estacada, Molalla and much of the rural area around here is old logging country. Cowboy country. Horse country.

Interesting fact: when my daughter did 4-H, Clackamas County had more horses per person than anywhere else in the USA. Horses are like pet dogs and cats to those who love them and moving them to a safe place is a huge undertaking. Clackamas County Fairgrounds was at capacity before the end of the day. I heard there were even three camels lodged there with the llamas, alpacas, cattle, horses, goats, and more. Some friends opted to leave their cows in the pasture.

So that’s not exactly scary. Worrisome, maybe. Then the Evacuation Zones were redrawn and to our surprise, we were in a Level Two zone. In town. In the center of town.

Level One is “Be prepared for Level Two. Follow the news.”

Level Two is “Pack what you need to grab and set it by your door in case you go to Level Three.”

Level Three is “Pack that shit and GO.”

I still was not panicked, just – well, you know the saying? “This happens to other people.” And “This happens in California, not here.” I was feeling a little stunned.

Colton, Estacada, and Molalla were raised to Level Three. Entire communities with all their livestock. This also meant that the Evac Centers in Oregon City needed to be, well, moved again. Trailers full of toys (ATVs and such) as well as prized horses and livestock were once again migrating further north. Clackamas County Fairgrounds began the work of moving all the animals in their care to another facility. Oregon City is something of the hub between Molalla, Colton, and Clackamas County Fairgrounds. All that traffic had to flow through our small community to get north.

Many people who were just notified of their Level Two standing decided to also go rather than wait for a Level Three notice. Traffic ground to a halt on every artery through town. Even our little side street (which is a main street) got really busy as people tried to cut through town. We watched in awe.

Why didn’t we go?

The fires were still many miles south of us and while wildfire can travel fifteen miles in a few hours, there wasn’t enough wind pushing this one. My husband has fought forest fire. The air was unhealthy, but we weren’t in any imminent danger of a conflagration such as Paradise, California saw. We looked at maps while we fielded phone calls, texts, and IMs from concerned friends and family. We knew where we were and where it was most dangerous, and it simply didn’t seem prudent to pack up and leave. If we had to go, we could go after the arteries out of town unclogged.

Had we gone, we would have fled to Eastern Oregon and the sanctuary of my husband’s mother’s house, but her air quality wasn’t much better than ours.

So we stayed here, stuck inside, venturing outside long enough to wash out bird baths and refilling them with clean water. (cough cough, hack hack).

Meanwhile, rumors began to fly on Social Media. BLM was setting fires. (Doh! The BLM in this case is the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, not Black Lives Matter.) Arson was reportedly the main cause of the fires while law enforcement kept repeating they hadn’t had time to look into the cause of the fires (that’s usually done once a wildland fire is contained). Antifa, Proud Boys, anyone who could be blamed is being blamed.

The Riverside Fire is known to be human caused. I don’t know if that means it was caused by fireworks, a gender reveal party, arson, or – most likely – an untended illegal campfire. The woods have been closed to campfires for the summer, but that never seems to stop some people who think that if they are camping, they MUST have a campfire. S’mores, you know. I can’t tell you the number of times my husband and I have come across a smouldering abandoned campfire. People don’t realize those things don’t put themselves out. You must douse it heavily with water and stir the embers and ash in the fire ring until they are all soaked. Smokey the Bear has officially rolled over in his grave.

I do know that a lot of redneck cowboys with Trump sympathies picked up their polaskies, shovels, and pickaxes to dig unofficial fire lines around rural homes. In fact, we saw a very large rural county come together as people donated food, water, supplies, barn and pasture space, stock trailers, and more to help their neighbors. Businesses closed their doors to help evacuate and to donate their food and beer. The local Facebook community was alive with offers and requests and answers. Politics were tossed aside as were COVID-19 fears.

Saturday night at ten PM, we received the call: we are downgraded to level one. There’s still danger and level three hasn’t changed, but we could take a huge sigh of relief.

If only we could breathe.

(Thank you to EVERYONE who inquired, offered help, offered a place to stay.)

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