Oregon Fires: Sanctuary in East Multnomah County
An equestrian facility in Boring holds a history of helping others in times of need.
So when the call went out to house livestock and pets threatened by encroaching wildfire flames, they were one of the first to answer.
The Mt. Hood Center Equestrian and Event Facility, 29450 S.E. Lariat Lane in Boring, is now packed to the brim with new four-legged friends.
"We opened up our stalls to whomever needed it," said Brandi Hatch, facility director. "This was a no-brainer for us."
Mt. Hood Equestrian Center is now home to dozens of new horse residents, several mini-horses, two donkeys, and even a cow.
"It's awesome to walk down these halls and see all the stables full," Hatch said.
The center isn't alone in its mindset of offering support. As fires rage across the state of Oregon and thousands are forced from their homes, local businesses and community members are stepping up to lend a hand however they can. From taking in animals and people, to providing supplies and a place to sleep, East Multnomah County residents are offering a safe haven for those dealing with the historic blazes.
"We never get deployed to this extent," said Gresham Fire Battalion Chief Jason McGowan. "I've worked here for 28 years and I've never seen anything like this."
States of Emergency have been declared in Clackamas County and Marion County, which also invoked Oregon's Emergency Conflagration Act as a pair of wildfires rip through Santiam Canyon. Gov. Kate Brown called the rapid spread of wildfires across the state a "once in a generation event."
Many communities are facing Level 3 "GO" evacuation orders — requiring residents to flee immediately. People in Estacada, Eagle Creek and Barton have all been forced from their homes, as have residents living in the Mount Hood area.
The high winds and dry conditions have pushed Gresham Fire & Emergency Services to the brink. Crews have been responding to twice the normal number of calls this week, and have been deployed to assist neighboring communities.
Locally, most of the fires have been manageable, sparked by downed power lines. Tuesday morning, Sept. 8, a blaze began in Troutdale near the intersection of the Historic Columbia River Highway and Frontage Road, and took hours for firefighters to beat back. The next day, crews spent the morning putting out a shed fire on Southeast 176th Avenue north of Division. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but the weather leads to threats of flames spreading.
"Things are under control, we are handling them," McGowan said.
Gresham Fire has been assisting Clackamas County by responding to routine calls in the northern section to allow their crews to focus on the 15 fire-related incidents occurring.
A Gresham crew was also mobilized by the State Fire Marshal to assist in fighting the Alameda Fire in southern Oregon, which is threatening lives, structures and property. Gresham sent an engine and brush team — consisting of six firefighters — to join the Blue Incident Management Team, initially tasked to serve in the Ashland area but then moved to Medford. They will be there for two weeks trying to save homes.
"Our firefighters will help wherever they can," McGowan said. "This perfect storm of heat and wind is taxing the state's fire service, but our firefighters are up to the task."
Staff at Arabian Horse Rescue & Education were frantic Tuesday morning as black smoke billowed up over their barn.
The nonprofit organization, located in the 16300 block of South Harding Road in Oregon City, were in the middle of an evacuation zone and needed a place to take their 26 horses. Thankfully, Mt. Hood Equestrian had the space to take on a majority of the animals, with the others going to private residents in the Sandy area.
"We are just amazed that during a time of hardship, hate and uncertainty, our community pulled together in a powerful act of selflessness," Arabian Horse Rescue shared on Facebook.
At Mt. Hood Equestrian Center, it was the entire staff pitching in that made the rescues possible. Many of the stalls had to be cleared out and prepped before welcoming the refugee horses. They also used their parking lot as a staging area for those fleeing the fires. Now the lot is filled with trailers, many bursting with mementos and personal items.
"We want people to be safe here, get water and walk their horses," Hatch said. "We wanted to help anyone we could."
In Sandy, community members rallied on social media to support those in need. Katie and Brandon Boggs coordinated assembly of firefighter care packages to deliver to the men and women fighting to protect the community. Kristy Boley was one of many residents to open their homes to animals in need — she had a large chicken coup available for feather fowls fleeing the fires.
The STAND UP Movement, a Sandy group that normally amplifies the voices of those affected by systemic racism, connected residents with resources. The group formed community teams to get people access to water, food, trailers and a place to go.
Pheasant Pointe Assisted Living and Memory Care closely followed the wildfire evacuations as things spun out of control Tuesday afternoon. The Molalla facility was in the middle of the evacuation zone in Clackamas County. As staff connected residents to their loved ones by phone, they looked for a place to go.
The answer was their sister community in Gresham — Courtyard Fountains and Senior Living, 1545 S.E. 223rd Ave. Courtyard Fountains housed 40 displaced residents while maintaining proper safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That is what we do, we care," said Ryan Bethke, marketing director for Courtyard Fountains. "If someone needs help, we want to do whatever we can."
Courtyard also received donations and support from other businesses. Gresham Total Rental donated 14 cots for the new residents to use, and both Kindred Hospice and Care Partners Hospice reached out to assist as well.
"We want to thank everyone in the community for lending a hand," Bethke said. "It's important that we also support our firefighters so they can get home safely."
A Boring Life Café & Market, 20414 S.E. Highway 212, wanted to do its part and began serving free coffee and baked goods to anyone in need.
"No one should feel alone during this," said owner Serafina Palandech, whose business is just one mile from the edge of the evacuation zone. "This is our community and we want to support it. It's the right thing to do."
The free food was passed out Wednesday afternoon, though Palandech said anyone who needs a meal should call in the coming days. Their next step will be organizing lunch deliveries to the evacuation centers. And her family is safe, if a little rattled from the quick departure.
"We lived through the Santa Rosa fire three years ago, so we know how difficult this can be," Palandech said.
Beyond lending support and supplies, Gresham Fire said the best thing residents can do is limit any potential for new fires. A burn ban is in place, and residents should suspend any activities that could lead to a new fire.
"Be careful of anything that would cause sparks," McGowan said. "These conditions make everything more dangerous and difficult to contain."
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