AIn grassy Creekside Park behind Elk’s Lodge in Milwaukie, Oregon, about 100 evacuees were housed in a selection of RVs, cars and tents.
Some, like Eric Sam, a wood mill worker, had been evacuated twice in the past few days.
“First we were in Oregon City, then they brought us here.”
Sam said he, his wife and their three teenage children fled Molalla for the first time to the grounds of Clackamas Community College on Tuesday. Then, late Thursday, the college, along with most of Oregon City, was raised to a level two fire hazard warning.
Sam’s employer, also located near Molalla, had closed its doors in what could only be described as cinematic conditions. A picture on his cell phone showed the family home a few days ago, bathed in blood-red light broken up by thick smoke.
Now the family fell asleep, some in their only tent, others in their car.
“It’s hard to buy a tent because everyone wants one,” said Sam.
At least half a million people in Oregon, one-tenth the state’s population, were under evacuation orders Thursday night. Fires forced the evacuation of large parts of Clackamas County, the southeasternmost part of the Portland metropolitan area. Some parts of Oregon likely haven’t seen flames as intense as this in 300 to 400 years, Meg Krawchuk, a pyrogeographer at Oregon State University, told the Guardian.
Shyanne Summers of Dickie Prairie, a hamlet southeast of Molalla, had also been evacuated twice when the area of fire hazard widened Thursday.
Summers and her friend David Pla camped in a complex of three tents with Kristopher Smith and Sidney Vandenbroeder, another young couple who had fled the Molalla area.
The cats also shared four cats, including a playful ginger kitten, and two small dogs. (Pla, who lives in Madras but drove over Mt. Hood to help Summers evacuate, noted that she brought “all the animals but the horse” that remained in Dickey Prairie.)
Summers lived in the same house as her grandmother and great-grandmother, who now lived with other relatives in Milwaukie.
When they were evacuated on Wednesday, the smoke was so thick that “you could barely see from me to you,” she said, indicating a visibility of about 6 feet.
Summers said she almost passed out while packing her things to leave. “I’ve never been so scared,” she said.
“Now we don’t know if we have a house to return to,” she added.
The fires obscured familiar surroundings. “You could see the orange glow on the horizon,” said Summers, and the floor was littered with “coin-sized pieces of ash.”
When asked if their grandmother or great-grandmother could remember conditions they recently faced, Summers said “their only reference for this type of ash fall is Mt. St. Helens,” referring to a mountain volcanic eruption in southern Washington in 1980, which deposited thick ash on the streets of Portland and other parts of northwest Oregon.
Kristopher Smith, her friend, said there had been “heaps of ash on the streets” for the past few days, just like in Molalla.
Smith said at least 50 people stayed in Molalla and “really gained weight”. They now checked the neighbors and “patrolled” the streets.
He said he read on a community-affiliated Facebook page that “they found a few people who tried to start fires and chase them away,” but admitted that the group was not the most reliable source of information be.
“There is a lot to it. You never know what is true and what is not. “
On Thursday, three journalists in Molalla were confronted with three civilians armed with assault rifles and ordered to leave the city.
Meanwhile, Christina Kerovecz from Oregon City was sitting at a picnic table with her golden retriever Emma, with whom she shared a small tent.
She said she has never experienced anything like fire or weather conditions. She had lived in Oregon City all her life, she added, but the dry winds that blew through the area before the fires were a phenomenon that “never happened as long as I knew it.”
She said a healthy wisteria vine on its chicken run was “completely dried out” by the wind. “It had sucked out the moisture”.
Kerovecz blamed the events mainly for one factor: “If we didn’t have global warming, none of it would be so serious.”
In the great mid-century Elks Hall, Sue Mitchell happily displayed the stacks of canned food, toilet paper, bottled water, and other goods that were the fruits of an “overwhelming community response,” but added that they still liked tents and tents, there is a lack of bed linen for many who arrived “with nothing” after their escape.
When describing the fraternal order’s charitable endeavors, more residents came with additional donations and she said local businesses and restaurants were looking into catering and supplies.
The evacuees agreed on the generosity of the community response coordinated by the moose.
“It’s all very stressful,” remarked Kerovecz, “but the people were so nice”.
Maanvi Singh contributed to this report