Weekend of wildfires in Oregon forces evacuees to flee their homes

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Sept. 12, 2022 12 p.m.

High winds fanned the flames Friday and Saturday, but mellower weather on Sunday downgraded many evacuation alerts

Thousands of Oregonians had to evacuate their homes over the weekend because of wind-driven wildfires.

It’s an experience that’s become more common for people in the West, as summers grow hotter and drier every year.


For some, this wasn’t their first time fleeing oncoming flames. Barbara Gaines had to evacuate with her two horses Friday night due to the McIver Fire in Clackamas County, sparking memories of when she evacuated two years earlier during the Dowdy Fire.

“This fire is not as huge as the last one was,” Gaines said, standing near her horses in the parking lot of Clackamas Community College. “I’ll be glad when I can go home and have my coffee.”

A woman opens the back door of a metal horse trailer while two brown horses stand roped nearby, eating feed from a bucket.

At an evacuation center at Clackamas Community College on Saturday, Barbara Gaines cares for her two horses after evacuating from her home near the Milo McIver State Park in Clackamas County.

April Ehrlich / OPB

Gaines said she signed up for emergency alerts after her last evacuation, so this time around, she had plenty of time to prepare her horses for quick departure. At 27 and 30 years old, Gaines said, their old age makes them easy to care for, and easy to evacuate.

“They trust me,” Gaines said. “This trailer is their second home, so that’s why they stand so well.”

The fire near Estacada’s Milo McIver State Park took off Friday night, leading to an evacuation order for nearby residents, as gusty winds fanned flames across the state. By Sunday morning, most of those evacuation orders had been lifted.

Around that same time Friday, a fire in South Salem also exploded, triggering evacuations. Among the evacuees was Judy Turner and her daughter, Shane Cooper, who evacuated with their 18 rabbits, six Tibetan mastiffs, two cats and a lizard.

Shane Cooper pets a rabbit in a cage in the parking lot at Judson Middle School in South Salem after she and her family took their animals and evacuated their farm due to a spreading nearby grass fire.

After evacuating from the family farm, Shane Cooper, left, pets one of their rabbits as her mother, Judy Turner, looks on in a parking lot at Judson Middle School in South Salem on Saturday, Sept. 10. The family also brought 17 other rabbits, six Tibetan mastiffs, two cats, and a lizard when the Vitae Springs Road Fire spread and triggered evacuations.

April Ehrlich / OPB

“So I have three kinds of rabbits here,” Turner said, pointing to the opened hatch of an SUV, where several variations of rabbits peered from cages. “These two little ones are Lionheads, and they’re just a small breed pet rabbit. These guys here are American Chinchilla rabbits. And I also have a Rex rabbit there.”

Turner lives on a six-acre farm. She wasn’t able to bring all of her pets with her; the 11 Tibetan yaks that she keeps for fur and milk, for instance, had to stay home. She said she released them into the safest pasture, where there was little that could burn.

Although this was her first time evacuating her pets because of a wildfire, Turner said several years of working as an environmental health and safety specialist manager helped her know how to be better prepared for disasters.

The grass fire that triggered the evacuations south of Salem, in the Vitae Springs area, has since mellowed out, and many evacuations have been lifted.

Not everyone evacuated with time to spare. Standing in a parking lot at the Lane Events Center in Eugene on Saturday, Don Griffin said he was on his way home from a trip when he hit roadblocks. That’s how he learned that his neighborhood in Oakridge had been evacuated.

A man gets into the driver seat of a small blue pickup truck. He is smiling.

At the Lane Events Center in Eugene, Don Griffin sits in his pickup truck after having to evacuate his home in Oakridge due to the Cedar Creek Fire. Sept. 10, 2022.

April Ehrlich / OPB

“So I didn’t get anything from home,” Griffin said, standing near his pickup truck. “Fortunately I had my dog with me, but all of her food and all of that stuff’s back home. My meds are back home.”

Griffin said he was surprised when he heard the news.

“I didn’t really expect it to just flash the way it did and get to our area,” Griffin said.

The Cedar Creek Fire grew significantly on Friday and Saturday, growing to over 85,000 acres and jumping containment lines. By Sunday, though, many evacuation alerts had been downgraded.


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