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Growing number of Clackamas County wildfire refugees thankful for safety of their families

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Evacuees of the wildfires ravaging Clackamas County camp out in the parking lots that surround Clackamas Town Center mall. Despite uncertainty over the safety of their homes and communities, evacuees camped out in the parking lots of the Clackamas Town Center mall were generally upbeat Friday morning as they awoke yet another smoke-filled day caused by massive wildfires burning throughout Clackamas County.

Although many have not heard any new information as to how the communities and homes they've left behind are faring against the fires, many were happy to simply be surrounded by their families and have a hot meal provided by one of the dozens of groups that have mobilized to bring food, supplies and some semblance of stability to what has been a chaotic week for many.

Keith Carroll of unincorporated Oregon City arrived at the town center Thursday afternoon with his wife, children and in-laws after receiving a Level 3 "GoNow" evacuation order. It's been a tough year for Carroll, losing his two jobs working events at both the Moda Center and Providence Park earlier this year due to the pandemic. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon City resident Keith Carroll says that while 'stuff can be replaced,' his family cannot. He remains optimistic in spite of the fact his family's home is threatened by wildfire. COURTESY PHOTO - Clackamas Rotary and Clackamas-based Stanford's Restaurant serve freshly cooked food to Clackamas Town Center evacuees.

Despite the threat of losing his family's home — his in-laws are 20-year residents of Clackamas County — Carroll's spirits remained high. On Friday morning he exuded an infectious attitude of positivity.

"If the kids see me distressed and distraught, then they're going to feel that," Carroll said. "The biggest thing for me is to give all faith to God, and he'll be in control of everything, you know? To be honest, stuff can be replaced. My family can't."

Stacks of water bottles and tables lined with snacks, hot food prepared by church groups and nonprofits that sprang into action lined the rows of RVs and trailers throughout the mall's parking lot. It's a sure sign of what Carroll describes as "the worst situations bringing out the best in people." PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Keith Carroll and his family emerge from their travel trailer currently parked at the Clackamas Town Center mall Friday, Sept. 11 after they were forced to evacuate from their Oregon City home.

As his children emerged from the family's travel trailer, they scampered off to one of the food trucks that had parked nearby and was handing out free hot breakfast to evacuees.

Nearby, the Union Gospel Church based out of Portland was offering free coffee, breakfast sandwiches, water and first aid treatment among other things.

"We saw the news feed of people rolling into the Clackamas Town Center last night and we'd been looking for a place to go serve," said Lorie Quinney of Union Gospel. "We figured we'd come out and see if we could help whoever needs or wants it."

Quinney said she's heard a lot of stories from evacuees expressing their frustration with the uncertainty of the whole situation, whether it be over what's happening back home or where they might be sent next. For some, Clackamas Town Center is the third temporary evacuation site they've been sent to in three days.

"Many of them are hoping they can stay here because they're tired," Quinney said. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Union Gospel Church volunteers David Conrad (left) and Lori Quinney (center) distribute free food, coffee and medical supplies to evacuees of the wildfires in Clackamas County.

Just a few feet away from the Union Gospel Church's pop-up station was another group of volunteers with Common Response, a Seattle-based disaster relief nonprofit.

John Waters, operations chief for the nonprofit, said that he and handful of volunteers made their way down from Seattle at about 11 p.m. Thursday night because they were seeing how many communities were forced to evacuate and felt they could offer some assistance using their connections and donation base.

"I went to the head of our organization and basically said, 'We gotta put together some go boxes, get some resources online and get out there because so many people have been displaced," Waters said.

According to Waters, his organization has partnered with Sunshine Pantry out of Beaverton to mobilize resources and provide evacuees with whatever they might need such as food, blankets, pillows and more. State officials asked the Salvation Army to provide 6,000 boxed meals daily for evacuees at Clackamas Town Center, the Oregon State Fairgrounds and the Jackson County Expo Center, but the town center meal service was moved to the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Although many of the evacuees at Clackamas Town Center were happy to see the outpouring of support from so many organizations looking to help through providing goods and making small talk to take their mind off their situation, there is still no replacing the peace of mind of knowing whether your home is safe or not.

For Dan Kubes of Colton, he felt the mall parking lot was the best place to weather the storm for the time being as he and his wife still have to attend work nearby. They'll also be able to return quickly should the situation change if they're given the greenlight to go home, but he's not thrilled to have bounced from one evacuation camp to the other following the closure of the site at Clackamas Community College yesterday. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Dan Kubes of Colton refills the his generator with gas. Kubes and his wife evacuated their home Wednesday night and initially parked at Clackamas Community College before having to evacuate once again to Clackamas Town Center.

Kubes said a neighbor called him last night to let him know their homes were still standing, providing a bit of momentary relief, but each new day brings with it another wave of uncertainty.

According to Kubes, he and his wife typically enjoy getting out and camping using their travel trailer in the summers, but it feels a lot different of a feeling when the camping trip isn't by your own choice.

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