Oakridge evacuees find support in Eugene

Mavis Pas felt much calmer on Saturday. The day before she had tried – she had spent the day evacuating her home, her 17 pets and had been separated from her husband of 90 years as the Cedar Creek fire approached her Oakridge home.

On Friday afternoon, her husband insisted she return to pick him up after first taking their furry family members to the Lane County Fairgrounds, home to evacuees large and small pets by fire. But by 7.30pm the fire had spread to the point that the Oakridge-Westfir area escalated into a Level 3 ‘Go Now’ evacuation order and she couldn’t reach it.

Pas traveled to the temporary evacuation center at Lane Community College, where the Lane County Health and Human Services team worked through the night to connect those who had no place to go with resources. Bus after bus arrived from Oakridge to LCC as Pas waited, wondering if her husband would make it out safely.

“I really didn’t expect it to come to this,” Pas told The Register-Guard on Friday night.

Clover the goat, left, helps her owner, Mavis Pas, center, with some paperwork as she checks in her animals with volunteer Tasha Schuetze on Saturday afternoon at the Lane County Fairgrounds after evacuating Oakridge ahead of the Cedar Creek fire on Friday.

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Eventually a bus arrived with only one passenger – her husband. Search and Rescue had found him and sent him to Eugene.

The couple were two of a hundred seeking respite at the Eugene Fairgrounds after smoke, soot and power outages plagued the Oakridge-Westfir area. County officials estimate that about 3,000 people have been evacuated from the area.

Pas’ animals joined more than 60 others housed at the fairgrounds, cared for by volunteers who responded to calls for help from the county with goats, horses, ponies, sheep, visiting chickens and rabbits.

Pas and his pets felt better and more settled on Saturday. Pas thanked county volunteer Tasha Schuetze as she filled out paperwork on her adopted goats Daisy and Clover, two retired 4H projects.

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“These guys are lifeguards,” Pas said of the volunteers. “Do you know what I would do without them? Can you imagine?”

She waved at the many volunteers checking in with all the animals.

“Animals make us more human,” she said.

Red Cross volunteers responded to the needs of evacuees with food, water, shelter and other support. Oakridge, a town of about 3,000 people, is very close-knit. Neighbors recognized each other as they strolled through the Red Cross shelter area, greeting each other and each other’s pets. Some evacuees marveled at the calm with which the city was evacuated, without passing each other or stalking on the freeway. Many evacuees felt calm among friends and hoped to be able to return home soon.

On the eve of his 5th birthday, Damien Rose-Mena, left, hugs his 3-year-old cousin Aliza Delsied Mena on Saturday afternoon as they join three generations of their family in the parking lot of the Lane County Fairgrounds after evacuating Oakridge ahead of the Cedar Creek fire on Friday.

Fire conditions continued on Saturday, but an expected wind shift in the evening and overnight could help clear smoke and improve air quality on Sunday.

Lisa Mena made a quick trip to the fairgrounds on Friday hoping to get out of conditions that would trigger her son’s asthma. Air quality was better in Eugene, but almost 5-year-old Damien was struggling.

“His allergies are so bad right now from the smoke and his asthma has gotten worse,” Mena said.

She packed her bags in just 40 minutes to get her family to better air. Back home, there are birthday party decorations for his son, but he may have to celebrate in Eugene. Mena shrugged. He was playing with his cousin and having fun. She and the rest of her family of 13 remained calm as they waited for news.

“There’s really nothing you can do, you’re going to have to relax,” Mena said. “We will find something.”

how to help

Signs direct evacuees where to check in at Lane Community College on Friday.  September 9, 2022, in Eugene, Oregon, after the towns of Oakridge, Westfir and High Prairie received a Tier 3
  • Donate items for evacuees – St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County has opened a donation center at its location at 2890 Chad Drive in Eugene. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. They need: Clean blankets in good condition and bottled water
  • To give money – United Way of Lane County opened a Community Response Fund for the Cedar Creek Fire. Donations can be made to unitedwaylane.org.
  • Donate items for small animals – Greenhill Humane Society needs: New or like new crates for large to medium sized pets; bedding; and pet food. Donations can be made directly to Greenhill.
  • Donate items for large animals – Lane County Animal Services is accepting donations of the following items to the Lane Events Center Large Animal Evacuation Shelter. They need: buckets of hay, food and water

Officials are asking all evacuees to notify the county so they can be directed to resources. Registering with the county will help ensure residents can be connected to resources after the fire. Evacuees can connect with the county, as well as other resources, at bit.ly/CedarCreekFireInfo.

Reporter Adam Duvernay contributed to this report.

Contact journalist Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at [email protected] or 541-521-7512, and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT.

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