After moving to southern Oregon from Florida, I didn’t have much thought or worry about wildfires. I knew that wildfires and smoke were a thing that happened in the west and in the rogue valley, but after almost the entire summer with no serious smoke or fires threatening the valley, I thought we were in the clear. I am a trained wildland firefighter and I have a lot of experience on prescribed burns, but I never fought a wildfire before or had one close to my house. On Tuesday, September 8th, in an afternoon meeting via zoom, my coworkers and I were discussing the smoke and the fire that had started in Ashland. We were all keenly aware of how close Ashland was to us, but all agreed that we all live far enough away, and the cities between Ashland and Medford are pretty urban, so it wouldn’t come near us.
As the afternoon progressed, the fire got worse, all of Jackson County entered emergency level 1. I packed a bag, poorly, just in case I had to leave. I contacted my parents and they told me to bring essentials, Passport, ID, medicine, all of my dog’s food and medicine, clothes, and a handful of sentimental items. I should be able to carry everything, including the pets, in one trip to my car just in case. I decided that I was going to evacuate Medford if where I lived reached level 2. I have a friend in Grants Pass, I could spend the night at her place and just be safe and not rushed. I asked my friend if it was okay and she said of course and I expected not to see her that night anyways. By 7:30pm, where I live was on emergency level 2, I packed up my things and left. It took me 5 trips to get everything into my car. I thought it was okay because “I had time”. It was so surreal seeing everyone pack their things as well, and to see the ash coming down and smelling the smoke while I packed. I was talking earlier to someone who had evacuated to my apartment complex after she had to leave Talent. How she was home one moment and had to get everything and leave the next. I was running through my head “what do I absolutely need”. I felt like I had so much and so little at the same time. I made amends with the items I left behind and knew I might not ever see any of those items again.
I was listening to the police scanner as I drove to Grants Pass. The area where I live had just hit evacuation level 3. A spot fire had occurred on Table Rock Rd, less than a mile from my complex. I was so anxious, did I forget anything? I did, I didn’t have any of my dog’s medicine. I didn’t have my favorite pair of shoes, I didn’t have my work uniform. Fortunately, an hour later, the scanner said the fire was out and people could return to their homes. I was pretty sure my apartment was still standing, I didn’t hear any chatter about saving it or ways to fight the fire around the complex. One of my coworkers called to tell me that the mall was on fire. I was freaking out at that point. Although I was safe in Grants Pass with my pets, passport, and a couple days worth of clothes, I didn’t know when I would be able to return home, if I had a home to go back to. The mall ended up not being on fire, but there was a fire in the tree area next to the parking lot. There was so much news floating around, I wasn’t sure what was true and what wasn’t. I didn’t know what was on fire, if I was over or under reacting.
My friend and I made a plan to escape Grants Pass if the fire got there. We realized it would have a long way to go in order to get to Grants Pass, but there were fires popping up everywhere. The area was dry, we had a once in a generation wind event, anything could happen. We settled on going to her brother’s house in Las Vegas if Grants Pass was under fire. It seems illogical now, but both of us are from out of state and don’t have many connections close by. My closest connections were in Eugene and Portland, with fires along the route there, we knew we might not be able to get there. That night, I eventually went to sleep. I awoke to no news about my apartment complex being burned down which I saw as a good sign. Everyone said Table Rock Rd was fine and no structures were burned there. The evacuation order for where I live was reduced to a level 1, I decided just to spend the day in Grants Pass with my friend to calm down. I’m glad I did, as a fire broke out in Central Point moments later. That fire was also taken care of quickly and people could return home. Around 7pm, I made the decision to head home.
It was so nerve wracking. I didn’t unpack my go bags until 2 weeks later. I left things in my car that I wanted to keep but could stay in my car and weren’t “valuable”. I had a trip to Florida planned and was nervous about leaving my dog in case they had to evacuate again. Should I give them all of her medicine? Will she be okay? After the fire, I kept running through my head what I would do differently. I would have a bag packed at all times to be able to grab and go filled with clothes and my passport and other important documents that I don’t access all the time. I would start loading my car sooner and have things put closer together and labeled. I’ve completely changed the way I leave my house. I keep all important documents on my person, or next to my door so I can just grab them and go. I wish I had put more thought into a wildfire entering my community and threatening my home. I didn’t think it could happen here, and
according to people who have lived here their whole lives, neither did they. As time passes, I realize how traumatized I was during the experience and how my first instinct is to pack up and go. Now I feel more prepared for a fire if it threatens my home again, what I’m going to take and what I’ll leave. I also feel like I need a lot less stuff, the next time I move, I’m definitely throwing some things out. I wish I had taken the time to research what I need and how to evacuate before this happened. But I’ve been spending my days researching how to better prepare and buying supplies and donating money to people who have lost everything.