After a day spent preparing for the worst, residents of Oakridge were ordered to evacuate their homes immediately Friday night as the Cedar Creek fire was driven by east winds toward the isolated mountain town.
The Level 3 evacuation order came at the end of a long day of waiting, as residents packed belongings in response to a Level 2 (be set) order and prepared to flee the out of control wildfire.
Late in the afternoon on Sept. 9, Highway 58 was closed to eastbound traffic just east of Oakridge. As Kathryn Mar drove east on Friday to see her family in Bend, she was stopped dead in her tracks at Milepost 37, one of the first drivers to hit the roadblock. For Mar, a medical assistant based in Corvallis, this meant having to go back where she came from and find another way to Bend. She tried to use her phone to find her a detour, but to no avail.
“It said I could go so far on 58 and cut off, and then I got closer and there was no longer a route,” she said.
To aid in the evacuation, Lane Transit District sent three buses to Oakridge High School and First Baptist Church to help those who did not have the transportation to leave.
Earlier in the day, choking smoke filled the Oakridge Friday afternoon, residents were out buying supplies in case they had to evacuate. Katrinity Johnson, 26, was prepared in case the Level 3 “go now” order came. She had packed “things, important documents, that kind of stuff sitting by the door just in case,” says Johnson, a cook and bartender at Big Mountain Pizza in Oakridge, as she stood outside a neighborhood market and smoke and ash filled the air.
Others weren’t waiting for that Level 3 order. Many had their bags packed and left right away.
Melissa Houston, a care provider in the area, did not fully know where she and her family were going, other than to head west. “We’re going to head to Eugene and we’re going to meet up by the fairgrounds,” Houston said. “I have seven kids, so we’re all just going to meet there.”
Luree Ayers, 34, and Kyle Trapp, 28, both work at the Chevron gas station in Oakridge. Ayers is a cashier, while Trapp is a fueler. The fire has been burning since August 1, but an east wind ignited the worries that the blaze could get further out of control, and with the increased danger, Ayers and Trapp took their five kids and left the town during the afternoon.
“The wind changed, and now it’s like, ‘whoa, we got to get out of here,’” Trapp said.
Ayers and Trapp explained that they grabbed clothes and other items to get by for a few days. They also grabbed more sentimental items, including pictures. They planned to head west toward Eugene and Springfield and try to get a hotel in the area.
For Trapp, this was a new experience.“I’m from New Jersey, I’ve never had to deal with wildfires or anything like that,” he said.
For many Oakridge residents, the biggest worry is whether they will have a home to return to after the fire ends. “This possibility that you’re getting kicked out of your town, you might not come back to anything,” Trapp said. “It’s kind of scary.”
- See a map of the evacuation areas here.
- People who need assistance evacuating should call 541-682-3977.
- Oakridge-area residents under an evacuation order can bring large animals and livestock to the horse arena at Lane Events Center, 796 W. 13th Avenue, Eugene, if they have no other option for their animals. Call or text Lane County Animal Services at 541-285-8227 before arriving at Lane Events Center. Companion animals can be taken to Greenhill Humane Society if you have no other option for your animals. Call Greenhill at 541-689-1503 before arriving.