10:21 am Sept. 12
The weather chills overnight. Smoke from the fires mix with fog from the morning dew. The combination leaves stretches of Highway 205 a dreamscape of low visibility. Drivers put their hazard lights on to alert those in front and behind of their location. It's a small gesture, but appreciated.
A state trooper and a National Guardsmen block off a section of Highway 22. They are only admitting local residents. No press. No visitors. They had even turned away CNN.
A truck drives by, stops, reverses. "Where are you from?" the man asks.
That's a question that carries a hint of menace. In the rural counties, the evacuation notice has left many homes abandoned and susceptible to looters—though only one arrest has been made for theft in the past few days, people fear outsiders coming to take advantage of their misfortune. Media reports have focused on false rumors spreading of antifa arsonists.
Some people out here believe the rumors. But more often, they attribute looting to no political motivation—just wickedness. A woman from Beavercreek says her husband drives back to their property several times a day to patrol for looters. He's taped a sign to their truck: "Looters will be shot."
"A lot of folks around here are on edge," says Doug, a local. He's been patrolling for suspicious behavior and vehicles over the week. He blames the prospect of looting on mental illness and tells of a man he saw recently walking toward a fire with nothing but a garbage bag. "Be careful," he warns.
As nearly a million acres of Oregon burned in the past week, I drove toward the blazes, spending two days with the dazed and displaced residents of Clackamas and Marion counties. Read the next story.