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Though the city is split between level 2 and level 3 evacuation status, some are leaving anyway

COURTESY PHOTO: JENNIFER SATTER - Only the silhouettes of the trees are visible in Molalla through the smoke against the red skies Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Even with the Wilhoit fire burning outside Molalla, and the Riverside, Unger and Beachie Creek fires spreading from the south, the city of Molalla itself was still avoiding flames Wednesday, Sept. 9.

Highway 211 runs through the center of Molalla, splitting the city into level 3 and level 2 evacuation statuses. Those who live south of the highway were told to evacuate, while those north of it were told to be ready.

If the whole city is elevated to level 3 evacuation status, a notice should be sent to residents' phones.

"If they get that, they need to grab all their things and go as soon as possible," said Kyra Bush, a volunteer responding to nonemergency calls at Molalla Fire.

Those who do evacuate or have evacuated are asked to stay away for their safety.

There is no estimate as to when folks can return home to level 3 areas, Clackamas Fire Chief Fred Charlton said Wednesday morning in a news conference.

Though not yet required, even some Molalla north-siders are ready to run.

"It's time," Molalla resident and school board member Jennifer Satter said at about 2 p.m. "I'm a last-minute holdout and we are leaving now, right now."

Satter received information Wednesday afternoon that fire was "moving fast" and nearing the Glen Avon Bridge.

Indeed, satellite imagery does show fires appearing close to the area, and Canby Mayor Brian Hodson affirmed that evacuating during level 2 status is a good idea.

By sight, the conditions in Molalla appear ominous.

Molalla Schools Superintendent Tony Mann drew attention to the conditions in a letter to school staff Wednesday. He told those in the district that they are in his prayers, and he painted a picture for those who do not live there.

"I left my house this morning to drive toward the district. … As I drove southeast on Beavercreek, I passed car after car, trailer after trailer. Everyone appeared to be leaving the school district and heading north. I mean everyone. I was the only vehicle heading toward the district.

COURTESY PHOTO: JENNIFER SATTER - The skies in Molalla are red and thick with smoke on the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 9.

"As I drove, I saw in open fields animals huddling, trying to stay together and far from trees. Instincts. I drove further south, and the sky turned from simply dark to dark red then darker red.

"Before I could reach Clarkes Elementary, I decided I might actually be at risk personally if I continued proceeding toward the district."

The picture served to caution staff members that students and families will be left traumatized from the fires.

Mann also sent a letter to school families Wednesday, validating any concerns people may have.

"The fear that has captured our community is real because the threat is real," Mann said.

He ended the letter with an appeal.

"Please join me in offering prayers for the safety and welfare of our entire community, and know that we will make it through this together," Mann said. "We will make it through this together because that is what we do."

Kristen Wohlers
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