Mehama, Ore.

11:22 am Sept. 12

Kristine Samuelson wades in boots and jeans through the smoldering brush on the timber farm that has been in her family since World War II. Samuelson, along with her husband, Lee, and two family friends, are fighting a portion of the Beachie Creek Fire with shovels and buckets. Nearly 150 acres of their 200-acre property in Marion County has been torched.

On Sept. 8, they began fighting blazes on their property without the help of wildland firefighters—who have been stretched thin responding to fires across the state.

"I first got on scene Tuesday morning and could not fight it by myself," says Lee Samuelson. "Came back Wednesday with my brother and son-in-law to help evacuate the cows and fight the fire. We've been fighting it ever since with just my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and even my dad."

Lee Samuelson fights a portion of the Beachie Creek Fire with shovels and buckets. (Alex Wittwer)
Lee Samuelson fights a portion of the Beachie Creek Fire with shovels and buckets. (Alex Wittwer)

They were able to keep their structures safe from the flames. But it wouldn't be until Sept. 11 that fire crews could respond. Within a day, those crews were able to contain the fire's spread by quickly establishing fire lines through the underbrush. Hot spots still smolder with charcoal under the thick brush and roots of half-burnt tree stumps.

Samuelson digs at a tree trunk to uncover a hot spot and then sprays it  with water from a tank strapped to his shoulders. He moves through the brush with confident strides—his voice almost jovial as he speaks to family and friends fighting the fire with him, often out of sight. He's a forensic scientist at the Oregon State Police's Portland Metro Crime Lab in Clackamas. Department? Arson.

But he's not interested in talking about the rumors.

"It's not time to get political now," he says. "It's time to fight the fire."

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. Here are their stories.

Correction: Due to an editor's error, this story initially misidentified the law-enforcement agency where Lee Samuelson works. WW regrets the error.