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On Wildifires and Evacuations III

I thought it'd be hard to fit all the stuff we deemed necessary to get by with if our house burned down with everything in it into a four-door sedan. Turns out I was wrong. We got everything packed in under an hour (including Tripper talking time) with room to spare.

It was a gosh darned orderly and civilized evacuation given that there was only one road out of town. One. Literally one. That wasn't on fire. Living on the coast is many things, but accessible it ain't. Vehicles were letting each other in at intersections, people were driving carefully, and everyone was obeying the instructions of the emergency responders. It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to make the (usually) thirty minute drive to the next big city down the coast (population 10,680). Once there we hooked a left to go over the Coastal Mountain Range and into the valley.

The entire drive down the coast, and the entire drive over the Coastal Range and into the valley for that matter, was chock full of smoke and ash. I was hoping that the smoke would ease up in the mountain passes, but it mostly didn't. We kept the car's climate control system turned off except when it got too hot, then turned it on only briefly using recirculated air, however, if you have to evacuate hearth and home because of wildfire, I heartily recommend doing so in a 2010 Ford Taurus SHO: big trunk to hold all worldly possessions, decent cabin space to hold two monkeys and a feline, and ventilated seats to help keep you cool when you don't want to turn on the climate control with massage function to help relieve the stress of the moment. Oh, and radar cruise kicks tush in an evacuation, just set it to the speed limit and let the car accelerate and brake itself in stop-and-go traffic.


Oddly enough, during our first couple of hours on the road, we'd seen about a dozen motorcycles. I didn't imagine they were having a very good time of it, but my mind was mostly put at ease when we stopped to help one pulled over to the side of the road in the middle of the Coastal Range. I got out to ask if there was something we could help with and he responded, "Just stopped for a smoke." And indeed he had. While smoke and ash billowed and wafted around us like a snow storm in fog, he turned toward me and I saw a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I took a beat staring at him, told him good luck, and hopped back in the car, which is when I heard, "just throw on a nicotine patch and breathe heavily while riding through the smoke, for goodness sake" from the back seat where the cat whisperer was taking good care of Great White.

My cat whisperer was pulling double duty on the trip, cat whisperer to keep kitty calm, and coms expert, using her phone to get updates on air quality indexes and locations of other fires from official sites and friends who had scattered to the four corners of Oregon. Air quality looked poor pretty much everywhere except Bend and Hood River/The Dalles. Both were pretty long drives, Bend being on the other side of yet another mountain range - the Cascades. We just needed a place to crash with air quality that wouldn't immediately melt our lungs. The closest we could come to that was a place outside of Portland called Woodburn.

We evacuated a wildfire and found sanctuary in a place called Woodburn.

The La Quinta Hotel in Woodburn, OR to be specific.

We'd actually been having a hard time finding a hotel. About 500,000 Oregonians were under one of the three levels of evacuation with about 40,000 actually evacuated. That's a lot of people looking for temporary shelter at the same time. Nevertheless, we ended up staying at the finest 2-star hotel (which allowed pets) that money could buy.


After unloading everything we needed for the stay we crashed on the bed and monitored our county's website, the air quality index website, the evacuation zone site for the county we ran away to, the evacuation zone site for the county that was really really close to the one we ran away to, the Facebook page for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Echo Mountain Complex page, the Oregon Department of Transportation's road information site, and Woodburn's wildfire site while Great White wisely hid under the bed, taking a much deserved break from it all. Poor thing.

A quick note of appreciation to the staff at the La Quinta Woodburn, they were all very kind and professional, and that was without them knowing we were fleeing wildfires. Everyone staff member we interacted with while there were complete rock stars.