When I looked at the title of last week’s blog, “Not Your Typical Labor Day,” I couldn’t help but marvel at what an understatement that turned out to be.
If you follow us on Facebook or follow Dean Wesley Smith or Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blogs, you’ll know that last week turned out to be far from typical for the staff at WMG and for a number of our writers in the area. And that’s saying a lot for 2020.
The evening of Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 7), the cool winds that normally blow from the west reversed almost instantaneously, filling the abnormally warm air with smoke from wildfires in the Valley. Strange and ominous, but not alarming.
But what we awoke to Tuesday morning was nothing short of apocalyptic. Dark, blood-red skies and thick smoke made the Oregon Coast look more like Mars than Earth. The power grid went down. As the day progressed, the skies changed from red to bright orange, to sickly yellow, and finally to dark gray. Word reached us that fires had erupted mere miles from Lincoln City (in the outskirts of the city in towns called Otis and Rose Lodge, which are part of the greater North Lincoln County community we call home). By Wednesday morning, although power had been restored, the smoke was chokingly thick and ash had started to fall.
And then, all hell broke loose.
We went from no evacuation notice to Get Out Now in the space of minutes. Now, John and I had prepared for the possibility of evacuation (Nola was with her father last week, thank goodness). We had go-bags packed and had done a mental stock of what we needed to grab. But getting that notice that you have to flee, that the fire is headed your way, uncontrolled and gaining speed, well, nothing really prepares you for that. Fortunately, John and I both do well in crises and work well together as a team, so we managed to get the essentials (especially the three cats and the dog) together in the car and get out of town quickly. While John was loading the car to evacuate, I was on the phone providing guidance to staff and local writers as to where to go and what to do.
As for us, we had gas and a plan, so we headed south, using side roads to avoid the bulk of the traffic. We were lucky: we made the hour drive in an hour and a half. For many who fled just a bit later, that trip took up to eight hours.
Once safely at our evacuation destination (a hotel in the southern part of the county), I began the business of checking in with everyone. We evacuees were scattered to locations across three counties. I was also checking in with writers across three states who were in various levels of evacuation, as well, because what was happening to us was indeed apocalyptic. The entire Western US seemed like it was on fire. It still is today. Just in Oregon at last estimate, 12 percent of the state’s population has been evacuated or under one level or another of evacuation orders. Take a minute to process that. I’m having a hard time doing so.
So many people had to face evacuating their homes, which is terrifying enough, but we were also doing this in the middle of a historic pandemic. To give you an idea of the stress of all that, I’ll share with you a bit of Fitbit data. On Wednesday, the day we evacuated, I walked only 5,384 steps but burned 2,521 calories (that’s about 500 more calories than normal). My heart rate was in the cardio and peak zone for more than an hour…much of that while I was in the car (and I wasn’t even driving). It stayed in the fat-burning zone most of the day.
We spent two days in evacuation before the orders were scaled back on Friday, and we were able to return home.
Fortunately, for those of us in the Lincoln City area, the winds had shifted just in time. The fire was stopped just outside the city limits (and I mean just outside). If it had made it to the city limits, there would have been no stopping it. Lincoln City would be gone.
Unfortunately, for many of our community members in those ancillary towns I mentioned earlier, the Echo Mountain Fire Complex took everything. Homes, cars, pets… I haven’t heard any reports of loss of life so far, thankfully, but the last estimate was at 200 homes lost.
We are a small community. Their loss affects us all. But we will come together and help each other through it. That’s the beauty of a small town. It’s the gift of community.
No matter how different we might all be, no matter our politics, we are united around the needs of these poor families.
And I am reminded of the kindness of neighbors through all this. My own neighbor, Virgil, stayed behind to help protect our neighborhood from fire and potential looting. He works with heavy equipment and brought home a 500-gallon tank so he could spray down our homes with water. I wish he’d evacuated for his own safety, but I also appreciate what he did for those of us who did evacuate.
And the communities we evacuated to were wonderful to us, as well. In Yachats, where John and I evacuated to, the hotel made quick exceptions for those of us bringing pets (ever stayed in a hotel room with three cats and a dog?), and a Yachats resident donated $125 per room to any evacuees staying at our hotel. Everyone I know who evacuated had similar stories of help from our Oregon neighbors.
Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to remind us all that we really have more in common than we have differences. And that what really matters is our humanity.
I hope you are all safe and well during these tumultuous times. Let’s keep taking care of each other. We are all in this together.
Allyson Longueira is publisher of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, editor and designer, working mother, and brain tumor survivor.
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