AIn the grassy park along a stream at the back of Elk’s Lodge in Milwaukie, Oregon, about 100 displaced people were welcomed in an assortment of campers, cars and tents.
Some, like Eric Sam, a sawmill worker, had been evacuated twice in the past few days.
“We were in Oregon City first, then they moved us here.”
Sam said he, his wife and their three teenage children fled Molalla on Tuesday to the grounds of Clackamas Community College. Then, late Thursday evening, the college, along with most of Oregon City, was elevated to a level two fire hazard warning.
Sam’s employer, also located near Molalla, had closed its doors in the face of conditions that could only be described as a movie. A photo on his phone showed the family home a few days ago, bathed in blood-red light refracted by thick smoke.
Now the family has split up to sleep, some in their single tent, some in the car.
“It’s hard to buy a tent because everyone wants one,” Sam said.
At least half a million people in Oregon, a tenth of the state’s population, were under evacuation orders by Thursday evening, with wildfires forced the evacuation of large parts of Clackamas County, the most southeastern segment of the area. Portland subway. Some parts of Oregon likely haven’t seen such intense wildfires 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, was also evacuated twice due to the fire hazard area expansion on Thursday.
Summers and her boyfriend, David Pla, were camped in a three-tent complex with Kristopher Smith and Sidney Vandenbroeder, another young couple who had fled the area around Molalla.
Also sharing the rooms were four cats, including a playful red kitten and two small dogs. (Pla, who lives in Madras but drove up Mount Hood to help Summers evacuate, noted that she brought “all the animals except the horse,” which remained in Dickey Prairie.)
Summers lived in the same house as his grandmother and great-grandmother, who were now staying with other relatives in Milwaukie.
When they evacuated Wednesday the smoke was so thick that “you couldn’t see from me to you,” he said, indicating a visibility of about 6 feet.
Summers said she nearly passed out as she packed her things to leave. “I’ve never been so afraid,” he said.
“Now we don’t know if we have a home to go back to,” he added.
The fires made a familiar environment unrecognizable. “You could see the orange glow on the horizon,” Summers said, and the ground was littered with “coin-sized pieces of ash.”
Asked if his grandmother or great-grandmother could remember conditions like the ones they recently faced, Summers said that “their only reference for this type of ash fall is Mount St Helens,” referring to a volcanic eruption of a mountain in the south of Washington in 1980, which deposited thick ash in the streets of Portland and other parts of northwestern Oregon.
Kristopher Smith, her friend, said that as then, in Molalla in recent days, there had been “piles of ashes in the streets”.
Smith said at least 50 people remained in Molalla and had “really escalated”. Now they were checking the neighbors and “patrolling” the streets.
He said he read on a Facebook page associated with the community that “they found a couple of people who were trying to set them on fire and kicked them out,” but admitted the group was not the most reliable source of information.
“There’s a lot to do. You never know what’s true and what’s not.”
On Thursday in Molalla, three journalists were confronted by three civilians armed with assault rifles and ordered to leave the city.
Christina Kerovecz of Oregon City, meanwhile, sat at a picnic table with her golden retriever, Emma, with whom she shared a small tent.
He had never experienced anything like the fires or the weather conditions that preceded them, he said. He had lived in Oregon City all his life, he added, but the dry winds blowing in the area before the fires were a phenomenon that “hasn’t happened since I’ve been aware of it.”
He said a healthy wisteria vine during his chicken coop was “completely dried” by the wind. “It sucked the moisture out.”
Kerovecz blamed the events primarily on one factor: “If we didn’t have global warming, none of this would be that bad.”
In the great hall of the mid-century Elks, Sue Mitchell happily displayed piles of canned food, toilet paper, bottled water and other goods that were the result of an “overwhelming community response,” but added that they were still at short of curtains and bedding for many who arrived “with nothing” after fleeing their homes.
While describing the Fraternal Order’s charitable efforts, more local residents arrived with additional donations and said local businesses and restaurants had gone into action with catering and supplies.
The evacuees were unanimous on the generosity of the community response that the Elks were coordinating.
“It’s all very stressful,” Kerovecz noted, “but the people have been so kind.”
Maanvi Singh contributed to this report