'Neighbors helping neighbors'
"Joy is not the absence of difficulty, but the presence of God."
These are the words on the sign still standing at the entrance of Dodge Community Church in Estacada. The church, located off South Hillockburn Road, has been serving the community since 1947, and the people who worshipped there will continue to serve even without a building.
It is but one example of a place holding personal significance to many local residents lost to the Riverside Fire.
As of Wednesday, Sept. 16, the fire was only 3% contained and had grown to 135,956 acres. Five hundred fire personnel, not just from Oregon, are said to be fighting the fire.
Not included in that number are numerous ordinary people with extraordinary compassion for their communities and neighbors, who have stepped up to act as a second line of defense and extinguish hot spots in the wake of the fire.
If you drive through Estacada, you're likely to find multiple small crews of dedicated folks hauling large water totes, hoses and other fire suppression equipment in their trucks. In the past weeks, there have also been many even lesser-equipped efforts by neighbors, creating bucket brigades fed by pools and hot tubs and utilizing garden hoses to help squelch fires in their neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Boring resident Brian Rolen entered the fray of civilian firefighters. He received a call from his best friend Donovan Bresko's brother-in-law as the Riverside Fire was first encroaching on Estacada. The fire was very near Bresko's parents' home on Hillockburn Road and the family stood to lose so much if the property was taken by the fire, including both human and animal lives and about 10,000 bales of hay.
Fortunately, Rolen has a degree in fire science and fought fires as a volunteer on the Oregon Coast for nearly a decade. While Rolen admitted that structural fires were really more his wheelhouse, he was willing to help in any way possible to keep people and their homes in Estacada safe.
Rolen's first action was to help evacuate Bresko's mother, who was home alone, along with several mules and horses. Then, with the help of Bresko and his brother-in-law Jerry Gross, Rolen worked to keep the longtime family home safe before going on to help others in the area.
"This is my best friend's parents' home," Rolen said of his motivation to take action on the fire. "I knew how dry it was and how the wind could push a fire. We got up here and it was worse than we had heard, so we sprung into action."
Word traveled about the three-man crew's efforts, and people began calling on them for aid with spot fires and protecting their homes.
"It became a moral responsibility to help people at that point," Rolen said, adding that he was definitely not alone in this feeling. "It's amazing how people came together."
The Bresko family home, where Bresko's family has lived for 43 years, remains safe, though the fire decimated the home right next door, coming all the way up to the fence separating the two properties.
While the crew couldn't prevent that home from being taken, they have been helping evacuation hold-out and 15-year Estacadian Doug Brugger. Brugger's home was put at risk by the neighboring fire as flaming debris was flung from the next-door property onto his land.
"I think it's great (that these guys are out here)," Brugger said. "We need all the help we can get. It's neighbors helping neighbors."
"It's what needed to be done," Bresko explained. "It gave you a sense you were doing something. We can't get at the big fire, but what we could do was help people out to make sure their homes didn't flare up."
Another person extremely grateful to Rolen, Bresko and Gross is Vietnam veteran and 6-year Estacada resident Ron Carroll.
Carroll had a spot fire flare up in the back section of his wooded property on Pederson Road and Rolen and his friends were there to help. Because of lack of access to a neighboring property and the landscape of Carroll's property, the crew had to build a road to get to the fire. Mutual aid and Forest Service firefighters were still checking the property to ensure the fire was out last week, but the work by Rolen, Bresko and Gross kept Carroll's home out of immediate danger.
"I was so glad to see these guys," Carroll said.
Carroll evacuated on Tuesday, Sept. 8, and he and his wife camped out in their car in the Clackamas Winco parking lot until Tuesday, Sept. 15, when they found it safe to return home.
"All of these people were spread so thin before the federal help came in," Carroll said about the volunteers helping fight the fires. "They've worked their tails off."
Carroll says he still feels fortunate, despite the threat the fires have posed, as well as multiple health issues he's been fighting for years.
"Ron is a prime example of why we're doing this," Rolen said. "He's a salt-of-the-earth guy who appreciates everyone who helps him."
The crew was aided in their hotspot fighting effort by donations of equipment from Wilcox and Flegel, an oil company formerly headquartered in Clackamas. Ron Huntington, senior director of supply chain operations for the company, was integral in connecting the crew to resources like a 5,000-gallon water tanker, several plastic totes to haul water and pumping equipment.
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