Jennifer Cox, a paramedic, spent the night of Sept. 8 evacuating her neighbors from the town of Estacada, then watering down their homes with garden hoses and sprinklers.
This morning, she fled town. Hours later, she stood in the parking lot of Clackamas Community College in Oregon City and cried.
"This year, for lack of a better word, has been one hell of a bitch," Cox said. "I think everybody has reached their limit. And then when you try to do the right thing, you feel like you're going to lose everything and there's nothing you can do."
Cox and her mother, Teri Dunn, were among dozens of families gathered Wednesday at an emergency evacuation center set up for people fleeing towns in the path of Oregon's uncontrolled wildfires.
More than 300,000 acres of the state have burned in less than three days, an unprecedented catastrophe. And Clackamas County, one of the three most populous counties in the Portland metro area, is among the places where fires have imperiled homes and entire towns.
A spokesman for Clackamas Fire & Rescue told WW tonight that county officials had sent messages to more than 18,000 people telling them to evacuate, but added that some of the phone numbers might be duplicates or living in the same home. The Oregonian reported tonight that at least 600 homes and other building are directly threatened tonight.
Among the places people are fleeing: Molalla, which Ron Scheler left at 3 am.
"It was pretty dark, so much smoke, we left and couldn't breathe," he said, sitting outside an RV with Cathy Suwa and their two dogs. "It's pretty scary. I feel bad for the wildlife, all the animals."
"Molalla is like a ghost town you can't even see when you drive in," Sulla added. "This is horrible."
The parking lot of Clackamas Community College, which just two days ago had been the staging ground for a truck caravan supporting President Donald Trump, had turned into a campground and relief center where people brought their possessions and their animals while they awaited word of their homes. An American Medical Rescue van drove supplies across the parking lot; the Red Cross provided sandwiches.
Jennifer Cox and Teri Dunn packed up their belongings on Tuesday, then left Estacada early this morning. Their home was still standing when they drove away.
"It's not just one fire," Cox said. "Estacada is surrounded by fire."
"We don't even know if we're going to have homes when we go back there, let alone a town," Dunn said. "It's like putting it to rest. It's a rinky-dink town but we still, we all pull together."
Dunn expressed frustration that Portland protesters continued to march in protests even as their neighbors less than an hour away fled for their lives. Both women said the arrival of fires atop COVID-19 and civil unrest was too much to bear.
"I wish it was just a story about the fire, because that's easy," Jennifer Cox said. "I wish it was just a story about the protests, because that's easy. I wish it was just a story about COVID, because that's easy. When you start stacking and stacking and stacking, it's not that easy.
"It's the first time in my life, including my military service, that I've truly been terrified," she said. "This year has been so much uncertainty and so much turmoil. I don't know if we're going to have a country left, I don't know if we're going to have a house."