It was almost midnight when her 8-year-old son woke her up. “Mom your phone keeps ringing and it says something bad,” Atlas told her. And there were texts from two friends. “Are you evacuating?”
Elisha Young still doesn’t know why those messages came through. She generally didn’t get cell service in her Blue River community. And with the power out from the freak Sept. 7 windstorm, the internet was down, too.
Atlas had been freaked out by the winds, Young says, and so she and her husband, Brandon, had set up a bed for him beside theirs.
Moments after Atlas woke them, they were grabbing pets and belongings — including a chainsaw — and running for their lives in the Level 3 evacuation from what came to be called the Holiday Farm Fire.
The Youngs’ house still stands — wracked with damage — and her family is safe, but Young frets over the community, population 800, of Blue River. The small town was incinerated.
“Especially Blue River proper,” Young says. “It’s devastating and heartbreaking, a total loss.”
That night was Elisha and Brandon Young’s seventh anniversary — “Copper,” she says, playing with the copper pendant Brandon gave her that survived the fire. They were watching the documentary Chicken People with friends when the power went out shortly after 8 pm. The wind was already blowing badly, so their friends went home, and the Youngs went to the Blue Sky Market in Blue River to charge their phones. They saw a roadblock down the road and a red glow; they figured it was the windstorm or the lights from an accident.
The Holiday Farm Fire is now more than 166,000 acres and only 6 percent contained. It started at 8:20 pm that evening of an unknown cause, but is believed likely to be due to downed power lines from the wind.
They went home and went to bed. When Atlas woke her up, Elisha Young saw the texts and messages. “Go now!” They grabbed their dog, Floyd, but the two Bengal cats, Poppi and Violet, were freaked out and escaped. The family, like many in the area, had to leave their pets as they fled for their lives.
“I don’t think anybody has really slept,” she says of the evacuees. “I just remember standing out there trying to load up the car, and the smoke and ash and debris from how hard the wind was blowing. There’s a fire, trees are coming down, and I can’t see in this air.”
Brandon and others used chainsaws to clear the road as they slowly made their way to Sisters, then Redmond, where they were helped by the American Red Cross.
After days of uncertainty, they found out their home is still standing, but unlivable due to fire, smoke and wind damage. The windows are gone.
A week later, there was good news. The cats had made their way to a neighbor’s house and rescuers caught them under the bed.
Despite the bright spots, Young says, “I am in utter shock” when it comes to her community. Young is Eugene Weekly’s business manager and has commuted to Eugene for work for several years. Her heart is in Blue River.
One of EW’s delivery drivers lives in McKenzie Bridge and has been located safe after not being heard from for days after the fires began.
Young says she has a lot of concern for both the renters who have lost their homes as well as for the people who have lived there for generations. “Entire generations of families just lost everything — you can’t stay with grandpa for a while, because it’s all gone.”
She says that there has been a lot of discussion of rebuilding and creation of GoFundMe fundraisers to help each other out. “The community itself is really tight knit and dependent on one another,” she says.
One concern Young has is for Blue River’s library. The Frances O’Brien Memorial Library, founded in 1922, was all-volunteer, and had donated books and had no cards and no fees. Young volunteered there and now she wonders how to replace something like that.
“It will totally change the community forever,” Young says of the Holiday Farm Fire. “There is still some ash falling. I can’t help thinking that ash is my friends’ houses and forest animals.”