FROM THE RIVER BANK…An Occasional Newsletter
By Kay Jennings
EVACUATION – September 24, 2020
It had already been a stressful day. My publisher had informed me that the formatting and trim size of my new book was off just a fraction, and needed to be fixed. I’d been working with my designer in New York to get it right, and she was stressed, too, trying to home school her two teenagers. (My second novel, Midnight Beach, is now available to purchase from Amazon, or at your favorite local bookstore.)
We have a large picture window that overlooks our pond, the meadow beyond, and Clear Creek – the southern border of our property – from the house’s elevated position. As the window is between my home office and the kitchen, I walk by it many times a day, always pausing to check if there are any visitors to our pond, like Harry the Heron.
Increasingly as the day wore on, the hills to the southeast which rise beyond Clear Creek became clouded with smoke. It was a hot, hazy day. As I was putting a chicken and vegetables in the oven to roast at about 5:00 p.m, I noticed that the sky was becoming orange. By 6:00 p.m. it had turned a more ominous dark orange/purple/brown color, and seemed to be advancing toward us.
Steve was downstairs working in his home office, and I knew he was on a call with potential investors, so I called our closest neighbor and asked him what he thought about the sky off to the southeast. They have lived here 40 years. He said not to worry, it was just some smoke from a wildfire that was miles and miles away from us. But he did say that his wife was keeping a wary eye on it, too.
As I worked on dinner, the sky become more threatening. Steve came upstairs and we stood looking out the window together. Steve is the calm, rational one in our marriage; I am the more boisterous, excitable one, but on this night, I was the sensible one. I asked him if we had signed up for any emergency alerts since we’d moved to Clackamas County. We hadn’t. We did so now, on both of our phones.
I also remembered that good friends of ours who live closer to the metro area had gone to the coast that morning for a vacation. I texted them, asking if we needed to, could we get into their home to spend the night. They graciously gave us their garage code.
As we ate our chicken and vegetables, our phones started going off within a split second of each other. Clackamas County emergency system. Our area was now a Level 2 wildfire threat, which means “Be ready to evacuate”. There is more language in the alert, something about children, animals, medications, phones, and so forth. I didn’t bother to read it. I said, “We’re going now.”
Steve argued with me for a bit, saying it was only Level 2, not 3, which stood for “GO NOW!” Calmly, I said “What if Level 3 comes in the middle of the night? Do you want to try to figure out what to do then?” Finally, at about 9:00 p.m. he could see that I felt strongly, and our sky was a hideous color with a strong smoke odor, and he agreed to go. We packed a few clothes, enough for a couple of days, computers, phones, medications, and drove both cars to our friends’ house.
As we were getting ready for bed in our friends’ guest suite about midnight, our phones beeped. Level 3, “GO NOW!”. We looked at each other, and I started to cry. There was nothing we could do now in the middle of the night but try to get some sleep, and see what tomorrow would bring.
“Tomorrow” was the worst day of my life. Although we were terrified, we had to go back to the house and see what was going on. Plus, wildfires were things that happened to other people – not us – and we had left without considering what was important to us.
Our road was barricaded, but we could go around it on one side, and we watched while one of our neighbors drove around it, and then did the same. It was noon, but it was very dark. We drove into our driveway and got out, wearing our Covid masks. Ash was falling on our home, and the power was out. Inside was dark, and I was wailing. Now it was calm Steve’s turn to take over.
He said “Grab what we can’t replace.” We hurriedly grabbed family photos that weren’t stored on our computers, art we had bought from travels around the world, jewelry, clothes, Steve’s bagpipes handed down through his family, my grandmother’s silver. We filled up the minivan to the top, and made a run for it. I looked back as we drove out our long driveway to the road, and saw our two 150-year-old majestic oak trees adjacent to the house. I said “You’re on your own, boys.”
Then, we waited for six agonizing days, safe at our friends’ house. The fire eventually touched down about ½ mile from our property, and the firefighters were able to contain it at the road. Yesterday, after 16 days, the county lowered our threat to Level 1, and the other side of our road is now “Normal”.
Today we will unpack the minivan.