As flames from the Holiday Farm Fire roared closer and closer to her home Monday night, Blue River resident Krystal Harrison was ordered to evacuate or perish.
The 38-year-old Harrison quickly grabbed her two children, her cats and the urn containing her father’s ashes and loaded them into her truck.
She joined other residents of the Patio RV Park, where she lives, and attempted to caravan to Sisters but quickly became separated amid wind-driven smoke and ash so thick it at times obscured the hood of her truck.
Harrison was among more than 100 people evacuated from the Blue River area along Highway 126, including approximately 50 who were provided rooms at the Redmond Super 8 by the Red Cross of Central Oregon.
Though a neighbor said the RV park was spared by the fire, Harrison said she knows that could change Tuesday night. Given the reports coming out of the area, she dreads returning home.
“I’m scared to see what it looks like now,” she said.
Among the Super 8 refugees was Charles Thompson, 58, who got the notice to vacate his home near McKenzie Bridge around midnight Monday as the Holiday Farm Fire closed in.
Thompson and his wife fled in their car, braving miles of downed tree limbs and powerlines, thick smoke and vehicle-rocking winds. In the early morning they arrived at the Red Cross’ temporary evacuation point at the Deschutes County fairgrounds in Redmond.
“It was horrifying,” Thompson said. “We were scared to death. We didn’t know if we were going to make it or not.”
It was too early for Lane County and Willamette National Forest officials to estimate the number of acres burned by the Holiday Farm Fire, but Thompson already knew how it has affected him.
“The word is, our house, everything, is gone,” he said. “My address is the hotel now.”
A friend confirmed for Thompson that his home had been claimed by the fire. It was one of approximately 80 to 100 homes in the area burned by the Holiday Farm Fire, the Register-Guard reported.
Fueled by high winds, low humidity and high temperatures, fires raged along the West Coast. Late Tuesday afternoon, seven major wildfires were burning in Oregon, and earlier in the day, Gov. Kate Brown declared three of them conflagrations: the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires in Marion County and Lane County’s Holiday Farm Fire.
Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires were active overnight in Santiam canyon. The Holiday Farm Fire remains near McKenzie Bridge.
Large stretches of four major roads in Oregon were closed Tuesday evening, including Interstate 5, which was closed to northbound traffic at the border due to the Ashland area fire. Traffic was being turned back to California.
The Deschutes County fairgrounds typically hosts the region’s temporary emergency shelter, but due to the to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Cross opted to provide hotel vouchers to displaced residents.
But it’s important that Blue River residents are housed in the same hotel, “together but separate,” according to Nadine McCrindle, executive director of the Red Cross of Central Oregon.
“It’s good to keep that community intact as best we can,” she said.
The first day of an evacuation is always the most stressful for people, McCrindle said. People need information at the time when it’s most scarce.
The Red Cross will provide the evacuees at the Redmond Super 8 three meals a day, and have healthcare and mental health workers on hand.
“What we try to do is make people feel calm and let them know we’re here to provide their most basic needs,” she said.
By Tuesday afternoon, it was sinking in for Charles Thompson how much he’d lost.
“I’m just flabbergasted. Blue River’s gone. Everything’s gone,” he said. “We’ll just have to rebuild. It’s all we can do.”