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On the Run From Fire, New Residents of a Clackamas County Evacuation Site Fear They’ll Have to Flee Again

“How many times can you grab your stuff and go?” said a man from Colton.

Tami Davidson slept in an Albertson's parking lot on Tuesday night as she and her two sons escaped the Riverside Fire in Estacada. Two days later, she found shelter in Gladstone at the Oregon Conference Headquarters of Seventh-day Adventists, an official Clackamas County evacuation site.

Davidson isn't sure, but she's pretty certain her house burned down. She doesn't think she's the only person she knows who lost property either, she said, because she has a lot of family and friends in the area.

"I feel safe now, but it's really smoky," said Davidson, 55. "I don't know how long we'll be safe for."

The Gladstone site is one of four official evacuation centers in Clackamas County, where multiple fires are burning. County officials said at a press conference on Sept. 10 they expect the Riverside and Beachie Creek fires to merge into one. As of Sept. 11, that hadn't happened—the winds slowed—but the feeling at the Gladstone evacuation site was one of rootlessness and insecurity.

Kelly Zasky, 47, feels a sense of perpetual worry. He got to the Gladstone evacuation site on Thursday, Sept. 10, after evacuating from Molalla on Tuesday. At first, he and his family stayed at his parents' house in Redland, but they were forced to evacuate from there, too. Gladstone is near cities that have received Level 2 evacuation warnings, so he's already preparing for the next move.

"It's crazy moving around so much," he said.

When he evacuated from Molalla, the city wasn't under a Level 3 warning, he said, but he left because all the smoke and ash made it unbearable, especially for his daughter who has allergies.

Now, he has to deal with the possibility that he may lose his home.

"This is 2020," he said.

The evacuation site is usually meant for summer conferences at the Seventh-day Adventist church. The space is open and large, with plenty of room for evacuees to park their cars, RVs and trailers. Indeed, the site is meant to keep evacuees safe, but a soft blanket of yellow-tinged smoke covers the campgrounds, bringing a sense of impending doom to some, especially as Level 2 evacuation warnings were issued for Sandy, Oregon City and Canby.

"How many times can you grab your stuff and go?" said Bob Fisher, 58.

Fisher and his wife evacuated to Gladstone from Colton where the Riverside Fire burned. He got to the site on Tuesday, but he doesn't want to have to leave again. However, he said he and his wife have been back to their home on a few occasions to pick up some stuff, and their house is still standing.

"I've lived here my whole life, but I've never seen anything like this," he said. "There have been fires, but this is the whole region."

John Wesslen, a volunteer at the conference headquarters, said the staff there is already planning contingency plans in case the evacuation site needs to be evacuated. But Wesslen isn't as stressed out as others may be. In fact, he said he's been hopeful because so many Oregon residents have been so helpful and kind during this time.

"I don't know what my expectations were, probably that people would be edgy and nervous about the fire," Wesslen said. "I didn't find them that way at all, they were just grateful to be alive."

He added that multiple people have donated food, water and supplies for evacuees. At the entrance of the site, two tables carry board games, toiletries and cleaning supplies for evacuees to pick up if needed. As evacuees settle in, volunteers like Wesslen check in with them to see if they're doing all right.

"Tragedy brings out the kindness in people," Wesslen said.

For now, residents sit in their RVs and trailers, waiting to see if they need to be evacuated yet again.

"I'm not really scared, but a little anxious and just ready for it all to be over with," said Kevin McConkey, 56, who evacuated from his house that stands between Eagle Creek and Sandy.