Officials in Clackamas County expanded the evacuation zone Wednesday as four major wildfires continued gaining ground in the county.
Wednesday morning, the Unger, Dowty and Wilhoit fires had burned roughly 2,500 acres in total. By midday Wednesday, the Riverside Fire, which originated in the Mount Hood National Forest, had burned more than 40,000 acres.
A little before 1 p.m., just north of Molalla, Kyle St. Clair was in his front yard aerating his lawn under a dark crimson sky.
“We’re all packed up and ready to go,” St. Clair said, with crickets chirping in the background. “I don’t think it’s gonna get that bad. We’ve got good fire support. It’s in God’s hands now, not mine.”
Inside, St. Clair’s wife, Kerina, was with their two children. She had two air purifiers running plus the oven fans to keep the air quality as clean as possible.
“It’s another day here in paradise,” she said, standing on her front porch wearing a full face respirator. “I’m doing dishes, he’s mowing the lawn and I’m making the kids lunch.”
Kerina St. Clair said they were waiting for the evacuation order before leaving to either Milwaukie or Canby.
“It’s sad. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions,” she said. “We haven’t had a lot of sleep, obviously the stress is high. I’m praying for protection.”
A few minutes later Kyle was done with the lawn and walked up the driveway.
“It might be time to go,” he said.
A few miles north, just across the Molalla River, Bridgett Noce was sitting in her front yard, surrounded by 11 acres of land and a handful of horses, having a beer. Tuesday, she posted on Facebook offering her “very large pasture that is not being used” to anyone needing a place for their horse. People responded.
“I think I counted about 18 people I made dinner for last night,” she said. “Complete strangers who we don’t even know brought two alpacas in, some other people brought in horses.”
Ryan Ramage was one of them. He had already brought his horses to Noce’s pasture and was in Noce’s driveway helping others.
“I met her yesterday because she had a refuge sign out here,” Ramage said, pointing to Noce’s daughter, Chance. "People are just dropping what they’re doing to help ... we didn’t even know each other 12 hours ago.
Ramage said he and other members of the community were pooling resources like trailers in order to make sure animals were being evacuated.
“Last night we moved over 20 animals from random places,” Ramage said. “It was pretty amazing to see all the stock trailers out and community coming together to get these animals out of the fire.”
Clackamas County District 1 Fire Chief Fred Charlton said weather has been a huge challenge as the east winds have made it difficult for the firefighters to contain the fires. He’s hoping to receive additional air assets to help suppress the fires. Right now, their top priority is safety and making sure residents located in Level 3 “Go Now” evacuations are safe.
“Some of these fires, especially driven by these strong winds, once they get up into the crowns of the trees they move very quickly,” Charlton said. “And that’s where some of the air operations can help or even get in front of these fires so we can begin to slow them down.”