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Old 09-15-2020, 09:17 PM   #1
uplandsandpiper
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Default A Week in Hell

The alarm sounded at 5 AM on Labor Day. I grabbed the phone and quickly scrolled social media, as I typically do before getting out of bed. A red flag warning had been issued for this particular day and already numerous fires were filling my newsfeed but one in particular got my heart racing. The now named "Cold Springs/Pearl Hill" fire had been raging to our north and east and had already driven its way many miles south and jumped the Columbia. I quickly dawned a robe and ran out of the house and out onto the fire break on the north side of the house. The dust from the sandy soils of the ancient Columbia River bar I live on swirled inthe 40 mph winds burning my eyes. From horizon to horizon north to south and east of the house was filled with a massive wall of smoke.



I ran back inside and woke my wife. "Start packing. There's a fire!" I quickly checked Okanogan and Douglas County law enforcement media outlets for evac notices. There were none. We packed bugout bags with a few changes of clothes, cameras, hard drives, battery banks, toiletries, and passports. You keep going over in your mind what should you take? What should you leave? I loaded one of my kayaks, because why not? I had space on the roof. Next went firearms, bows, computer towers, and chicken feed for our flock that was coming with us. It was 9 AM.

I burned an hour trying to get a better grasp of where the fire was. Community Facebook groups were proving far more informative that official government outlets which at this point had still not issued any specific notices to the area I live. Spent another hour walking around the house filming everything for insurance purposes and I double checked my renters insurance was still paid and up to date. The sky had transformed into an ominous ember color and the sun was barely visible. The first flames of a massive active fire front stretching for miles became visible to our east.



11:30 AM....Level 2 evacuations notices are issued for the town of Bridgeport just a few miles away. The vehicles are loaded. We position sprinklers in key vulnerable areas around the house and move anything combustible away from the house. The wind is ripping out of the NE 30 to 40 mph and gusting well above that. The sky is black. Crickets are calling and our hens are all on the roosting bars.

2:04 PM...emergency tones hit all our phone simultaneously. Level 3 evac leave now. Power is glitching in and out. I'd laid down a tarp in the back of the SUV. We tossed all 16 chickens in the back. I couldn't leave animals behind to burn alive, I just can't. We double check every lock in the house for fear of looting. One more walk through while the lights flicker. This is it.

2:30 PM...Evacuate. We merge onto 173 towards Brewster away from the fire joining hundreds of other vehicles, RVs, boats filled with furniture and family belongings. A couple of the hens spill out of the the back onto the front seat eager to get a better view of the outside world. I just look at them and laugh and cry. This is f...ing crazy.



20 minutes later we arrive at a friends house in Pateros. They lost their house to a wildfire 6 years earlier. We dump the chickens in the backyard much to the delight of their kids. I drink a couple beers and try to unwind while touching base with family and checking fire reports. We are safe.



As the sun fades we start receiving terrifying videos of the fire around Bridgeport only a few miles from where we live. My wife and I prepare ourselves mentally for what seems inevitable. Suddenly fire appears opposite of Pateros. Our hosts decide its best we prep to evac. The chickens go back in the car. I help him load his camping trailer and boat. They start packing their bugout bags. Their little boy is crying because he is scared. We all put on a strong face but I feel like melted butter inside. Then suddenly the wind dies. The fire opposite the river sputters out.



I sleep like 3 hours. We get a call around 5:30 AM. The house is still standing. There is still active fire within 1/2 mile of the house but the fire is behaving more moderately. We pass a police checkpoint. They remind us the area is still on evac 3 notice. We get home relieved to see it still standing. I can see pines torching just a 1/2 mile south. We decided to drive down and take a look. There are no firefighters around just a 1/2 mile wide fire front chewing through the sagebrush and pine landscape. We return back to the house. Power is out. Without power there are no pumps so we have no water. We opt to dump the chickens back into the coop everything else remains packed.



For the next two days I basically sit on the lawn watching the fire chew away a 1/2 to 3/4 miles south and west of us. More firefighting resources have arrived and are defending structures and meeting the fire where they can to suppress it spreading out onto the flatlands where my house lies. We secure a generator for the fridge and chest freezer. I set my alarm for every two hours for the next three nights. It's exhausting but for the most part the fire behaves predictably.





Without anyway to cook anything elaborate we enjoy fresh albacore poke using loins from recent trip out of Westport.



Everything seems to be going well. The fire is burning a 1/4 mile a day when on Friday evening the wind suddenly surges out of the southwest. The fire spots out on the flatlands where we live. My wife is the assistant wildlife manager for the area so we rush to open gates to give firefighters access to fight the fire. The worst case scenario seems to be coming true. The fire takes on its own life and it sounds like a jet engine roaring. Massive flames ride upward into the sky. From the town of Brewster people report a massive wall of fire across the river.



Then as suddenly as the winds come on they subside. Hundreds of firefighters pour into the area. I hardly sleep a wink all night but the fire fails to spread out onto the flats.



On Saturday things calm down a bit and heavy smoke from the south in OR/CA settles in and helps to smother the fire advance. Power, water, and internet are restored. On Sunday a successful backburn marks a major victory in stopping the fire. Yet many hotspots remain glowing on the horizon.



On Monday we finally transition from evac 3 to evac 2 and that night it rains gently off and on for several hours. We finally unpacked the cars and I lay down for a full nights sleep.

The week of the Cold Springs/Pearl Hill fire was one of the most stressful and tiring weeks of my life. The fire burned in virtually every direction around us. The map below shows the extent of the burn in pink, red, and orange. The black spot marks our home. In total the fire burned 400,000+ acres in less than a week. We always just seemed to get lucky that the winds laid down or turned in the right direction at the right time. Many others in the communities around us were not so fortunate.



What did I learn from this experience.
1. That I have way more friends and people who love me than I ever imagined.
2. That firefighters and lineman are badass.
3. That the Facebook community is far faster at providing real time information than government outlets.
4. That you should be prepared to leave before someone officially tells you that you should be prepared to leave
5. Most of my personal belonging really don't matter that much to me.

I'd like to think that this experience is something that most of us will never have to experience first hand. Both Sidra and I are physically and mentally frayed after living and breathing under a literal dark cloud of wildfire threat for a week now. Of course we know the shadow cast by the immense plumes has impacted more than our lives as the communities in our area are forever scarred by loss of homes, life, and massive ecological damage. Strong holds for Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit (see photo), Sage Grouse, and Sharp-tailed Grouse are gone pushing these species one step closer to extirpation.



Our hearts are heavy with sorrow and lungs heavy with smoke as this cycle of fire and smoke becomes more routine with each passing year in the Anthropocene. The absolutely insane number of fire starts, both insidious and accidental, coupled with changing climate are altering the western landscape in less than a generation. I'd like to paint a rosy picture of hope about humanity changing it's ways and reversing this course but I'm educated and old enough to know it will not. This is the new landscape we leave for the next generation to inherit and it will be one filled with stress, sorrow, and absent the endless forms most beautiful that evolution has crafted.

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Old 09-15-2020, 09:26 PM   #2
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F*** me...What can I do...How can I support. My goodness I feel For ya. I am at a lack of word...what can I do to support you and your family immediately?

All I have to offer for staging is in Reedsport...I am here...give me your command. I am sorry Brother.

God bless us all.
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Old 09-15-2020, 11:16 PM   #3
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Man talk about stress. Glad you made it out okay.
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Old 09-16-2020, 03:26 AM   #4
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So glad you are OK, Tyler. I have immediate family who were affected by fires in the Rogue Valley, up the McKenzie and west of Fort Collins, CO. What a crazy season so far, and everyone is already stressed taut by the virus and the politics.
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Old 09-16-2020, 05:10 AM   #5
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A week in Hell, indeed. Glad you’re okay.
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Old 09-16-2020, 05:43 AM   #6
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Thank for sharing your experience.
Well done with the Chickens.
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Old 09-16-2020, 05:53 AM   #7
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Good to be one of the lucky ones. A home to come home to. Glad you're okay.



We lost our house to fire under regular circumstances and even then it is life altering.
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Old 09-16-2020, 06:23 AM   #8
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Wow. I'm so sorry you have this in your memories, now. Me, too. I never, ever thought we'd be evacuated. Even less intense than your story, but I can relate!
In total disbelief, we left our chickens. We just didn't believe it was really happening.
Last year I binge watched the campfire fires, and was amazed and in disbelief that this could ever really happen to anyone.
I'll keep your neighbors and you in my thoughts and prayers. Just horrible.
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Old 09-16-2020, 06:56 AM   #9
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While not as close as your experience, we to had to pack up and evac our place. Never thought I'd ever have to experience something like that in my lifetime and hope I never have to again. We still aren't whole yet as all our stuff we packed up is still at my cousins in case we had to evac again, hopefully bringing it all home this weekend. Glad you guys made it though whole, prayers to those that didn't.......was a crazy stressful week last week for sure.
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Old 09-16-2020, 07:57 AM   #10
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Happy to see you guys came through this safely. A great write up, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to seeing more SpiltMilt productions. 😃
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Old 09-16-2020, 08:18 AM   #11
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Stressful week in hell indeed, as lucky as your were, it looks like your life/home will never be the same. Close call here too, but it sure looks like a week in hell here with all the bad smoky ashy air, as the Holiday Farm fire made it within 15 miles from our house, luckily the east wind ended, as 1 more day of east winds could of took out our house, today is day 6 of hazardous air quality in Eugene/Springfield, not 1 single day of hazardous air here before this, a couple more days til the wind & hopefully rain pushes out the bad air. Crazy hellish year were having for sure, & it's not over yet, hang in there everybody.
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Old 09-16-2020, 09:19 AM   #12
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Great write up and pictures! Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
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Old 09-16-2020, 09:50 AM   #13
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Wowzers!

We got to Level 3 (Holiday Farm Fire) at our house down in the Mohawk Valley, but we didn't have a fraction of the danger that you did!

You're also nicer to your chickens that me, lol. I packed my fishing gear, but left my 12 hens behind.

We've been back home for a several days now, which is a privilege denied to many...
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Old 09-16-2020, 11:02 AM   #14
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WOW - glad you guys made it out without harm! Crazy experience, and one I hope I never have to go through!

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Old 09-16-2020, 03:57 PM   #15
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At my house in Scott's Mills we went straight to level 3, about 7 hrs after the power went out. I have satelite internet so that was down. I plugged in my hard wired phone and my daughter called and asked why I was still at my house.
She's the one who told me about level 3.
She also called the county and told them no one had been going door to door to make sure people knew to evacuate.
I grabbed a change of clothes and paperwork, my most favorite firearms, and my North River and got out.
Luckily my house is still standing. The power was turned back on today, so I'll head back home tomorrow.
My 6 chickens are still ok. I left them behind also.
These pictures were taken about noon Thursday when we went back in to check on animals and retrieve more things.
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Old 09-16-2020, 08:42 PM   #16
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Happy to see you guys came through this safely. A great write up, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to seeing more SpiltMilt productions. 😃
Finally getting back to fishing and filming tomorrow. Slept 11 hours last night. I am usually lucky to get 6. The stress rips you up physically and mentally.
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Old 09-16-2020, 08:57 PM   #17
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Upland Sandpiper, thanks for sharing and giving voice to some of the horrific, anxious & exhausting chain of events you and your wife have gone through. I’m glad your place is okay. So many aren’t. I know many had similar experiences to yours with much worse outcomes. This year is testing so many in different ways.

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Old 09-16-2020, 09:31 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by DogZilla15 View Post
Good to be one of the lucky ones. A home to come home to. Glad you're okay.



We lost our house to fire under regular circumstances and even then it is life altering.
For certain. When I was a child we lost our home to fire. I was trapped in the basement with my cousin. I remember so vividly fire fighters emerging from the smoke and running down the red shag carpet stairs. They wrapped us in fire jackets and carried us out of the house. To this day the only thing I remember about that house is the color of the stairs carpeting and that experience.
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Old 09-17-2020, 03:25 AM   #19
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The most important thing is that you are safe.
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Old 09-17-2020, 07:16 AM   #20
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At my house in Scott's Mills we went straight to level 3, about 7 hrs after the power went out. ....
Read a pretty incredible article about how your town was saved by some heroic folks (who I know through the construction community): https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2020...tts-mills.html
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Old 09-17-2020, 05:13 PM   #21
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My cousin was out someplace on the east side of Scott's Mill, off Sawtell rd, working with his wife's grandfather to make sure their property was safe.

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Old 09-17-2020, 05:54 PM   #22
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This is a good read and I'm sorry that one of the reasons it is a good read is that it was a near disaster (and maybe even near death experience) for your family. There are 2 pictures among the good pictures I really paused to look at. One is the charred rabbit which is a hell of a metaphor for, well, a lot (fast moving wildfire stops one of nature's fast creatures in what looks like a stride). But also the Poke struck me. Talk about making Lemonade out of lemons and someone took a little time to make that meal special. Cool.
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Old 09-17-2020, 07:11 PM   #23
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Well written and documented Upland man.
Glad you and all yours came out of it physically safe.
Beachie Creek/Santiam fire got within 4 or 5 miles of us here.
A lot of my old friends on the Little North Santiam lost everything.
But my old casa up there was spared because of the terrain I guess. The fire must have roared right over the top of it.
But right next door, and also down river 1/2 mile, it looks like most everything right next to the river is ashes now.
Some beautiful country homes all gone.
Thanks for the great write up!
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Old 09-17-2020, 07:53 PM   #24
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Sounds terrifying.
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Old 09-18-2020, 02:58 AM   #25
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Hurray! Home after 9 days, and my home is still here.
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