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Along the Willamette River, Generosity Is Measured in Papa Murphy’s Pizzas

Stories from the front lines of Oregon’s immense wildfires.

Glen Oak Road, Oregon City

2:55 pm Sept. 11

Bill Olson can't believe the generosity of his neighbors. He evacuated from Estacada and set up his RV in the parking lot of an electrical services home business off Cascade Highway in Oregon City. The owner told Olson, along with his wife and dog, to stay as long as they needed.

"People that we don't even know very well, they call and say, 'You guys OK?'" Olson says. "That kinda restores your faith, doesn't it?"

About 5 miles away, evacuees pour into Clackamette Park, along the Willamette River. A supply tent with donated water, clothing and just-baked Papa Murphy's pizzas is set up in a parking lot. A truck rolls in to unload more supplies. Stephanie Low sits underneath a tent and helps direct newcomers. "We have doughnuts," she says, "we have fresh produce, lots of toiletries, more stuff than we can get rid of."

Olson thinks people act better in a crisis. "The sad part is that sometimes it doesn't last long. You're there when you need them and then we kind of go back to the way we were. And it would be nice if we could just hang on to a little bit of that when we move out of the crisis. And it hangs on for a little while but not nearly long enough."

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.