Klamath Falls resident Ruby Reid has built up a quiet but fierce resilience.
It’s been a necessary quality for Reid, a survivor of the Cutoff Fire in Klamath County last month. One of the first major fires of the season in Oregon, it burned nearly 1,300 acres before being brought under control. That included Reid’s 5-acre bee farm in Bonanza.
“Everything was burned to a crisp,” Reid said. “There was nothing left of the apiary, the bee hives, except the concrete blocks that the hives were standing on.”
But it wasn’t the first, or even second fire that has destroyed everything Reid owned. She and her fiancé, Chris Day, lost their home and urban vegetable garden in Talent, Oregon in the Almeda Fire last fall.
She also lost all of her possessions in an apartment fire at the age of 19.
“This will be the third total loss of fire in my life,” Reid said.
Reid and Day moved to Klamath Falls last September after the Almeda Fire ravaged the Rogue Valley, destroying their home in Talent along with their business inventory, preserving tools, and a robust honey harvest, all bottled up and ready to sell.
The couple had lived in Talent since 2015 after meeting while hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail.
She made pickles and sold them at the farmer’s market in Talent. The couple bought the property in Bonanza and were enjoying their new life together as landowners and entrepreneurs.
“We bought some greenhouses up there (in Bonanza) and that’s where I’ve been keeping bees for these last five years,” Reid said.
After the Almeda Fire, Reid and Day relocated to Klamath County after losing most of their belongings to be closer to the apiary in Bonanza. Reid continued to operate Valhalla Organics, where she sells pickles and jam at a farmer’s market store in downtown Klamath Falls.
“This would’ve been our fifth season operating up there,” Reid said. “We built that place from scratch. “It was nothing but wild land when we got there.”
The couple had 13 hives of bees, each with a bee population about the size of a small city, Reid said.
“We really did a lot of work, put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into making that place really special,” Reid said.
Reid was working on June 19, making pickles, when her fiancé called to tell her the mountain was engulfed in flames.
“I had a terrible feeling that it was just going to be all gone,” Reid said.
Even still, she was holding on to hope that the fire had skipped over the property and her beloved bees. Reality set in as friends and neighbors messaged the couple their condolences that night that everything was gone.
At the property, Reid found the tools she had at the property had become a puddle of plastic. Nothing was recognizable.
Her heart sank.
“It is a huge loss of not only the income and the business, but the part that matters most to me is I love working with the bees and now I don’t have a single bee,” Reid said. ”The loss of the bees is really going to take me a long, long time to recover from. I don’t really know if I actually ever will.”
Reid and Day both had concerns about wildfires even before the Almeda Fire, but definitely as fire season approached early this year. The unprecedented drought this year had only added to their concerns.
“This whole place is a tinder box,” Reid said, of Klamath County. “We knew that something like this could happen, and we were afraid that it might, but we didn’t think that it would, again.”
Despite their loss, Reid and Day want to continue to work in agriculture, even if it means moving elsewhere.
The couple was always planning to move closer to family on the East Coast but now that the apiary is gone, they are expediting their plans. They plan to continue beekeeping and selling pickles and preserves in addition to maintaining an orchard on their own property.
“We know how much it means to us now that it’s been threatened this many times,” Reid said. “We’re not losing it now.”
She also has some advice for fire survivors facing another summer of uncertainty when it comes to wildfire.
“I think the most important thing is to be prepared – get your go-bag ready, get the paperwork that you would need if you had to leave your home and never come back,” Reid said. “It’s easy to think, well this already happened to me so … it wouldn’t happen again but I’m here to tell you it can happen to you twice, and the best thing that you can do is be prepared.”
Reid and Day want to be in Virginia by Spring 2022, where they hope to purchase or plant an orchard. They are currently fundraising to cover the damages of the last fire and to make their dream of continuing to farm a reality.