Fire evacuees load up and clear out

Photos, documents top list of what to grab for folks fleeing Two Bulls Fire

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling

Published Jun 8, 2014 at 12:01AM

Given an hour to get out, evacuees of the Two Bulls Fire said Saturday they had to quickly decide what was worth grabbing.

“The baby books, the wedding albums,” said Rheta Johnson, 64. Her husband, Mike Johnson, also 64, said they also collected their tax records, mortgage documents and other important paperwork and shoved them into their Volvo station wagon before leaving their home in the woods.

Wildfire Saturday prompted the evacuations of subdivisions west of Bend, including about 100 homes in the Saddleback neighborhood.

The Johnsons, along with their 23-year-old son, were among the Saddleback evacuees who took refuge Saturday evening at Cascade Middle School. The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the school before moving it to High Desert Middle School Saturday night. Cascade is in an area that could potentially have to be evacuated.

About 40 people stopped by the shelter during the day but none planned to stay the night, said Karen Parmelee, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross in Bend.

The shelter gives evacuees a place to get food, water and information about the fire.

“Essentially it is just a safe place for people to go,” she said.

When the call to evacuate came around 4 p.m., John Mayer said the couple reviewed a list they had on what to take.

“We just went and grabbed each of those things and put them in the truck or (camping) trailer,” she said Mayer’s wife, Beverly Morales Mayer.

Along with medications and computer equipment, the couple gathered up their dog, Bert, 5, and cat, Mr. Kitty, 10. The pets were with them at the shelter but their horse wasn’t. Instead they left the animal behind to be hauled by rescue volunteers to join other livestock being moved to a shelter at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond.

The Mayers live in the Klippel Ranch subdivision, where homes sit on 10-acre parcels. He said they had an evacuation list together because of how close they are to woods.

Along with taking things that couldn’t be replaced, such as paperwork and photos, Jim Wakefield, 63, said he and his wife “packed the tent and sleeping bags, just in case.”

While they stopped by the shelter at Cascade Middle School he and his wife, Pam Wakefield, 58, said they would likely stay with friends Saturday night. The couple said they had about an hour to pack and be out of their home.

“I’m glad we had that much time,” Pam Wakefield said.

Lisa Clark, spokeswoman for the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center in Prineville, said fire officials try to give people who may need to evacuate time to pack cherished items and mementos.

“Whatever money the insurance company gives you, you can’t get (those) back,” she said.

Evacuees Saturday talked about the work they’d done around their homes, such as thinning brush and scooping up pine needles to protect them from a wildfire.

“The whole development is in the woods,” Mike Johnson said of the Saddleback neighborhood, which has plots of 2½ acres and bigger. He’s lived there for 23 years and never had to evacuate before.

And the evacuees talked about notable fires in Bend’s history in which homes burned. The 18,000-acre Skeleton Fire in 1996 leveled 19 homes and forced hundreds to evacuate. The 3,000-acre Awbrey Hall Fire in 1990 destroyed 22 homes and forced the evacuation of 2,500 residents in west Bend.

“That one was horrendous,” Morales Mayer said. “I hope this doesn’t turn out like that.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com