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Residents on the Linn-Lane county line bracing themselves, showing community spirit in face of wildfire
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Residents on the Linn-Lane county line bracing themselves, showing community spirit in face of wildfire

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Southern Linn County residents are bracing themselves for possible evacuation due to the Holiday Farm Fire’s spread from Lane County.

The wildfire, already having torched nearly 157,000 acres of land, has prompted mandatory evacuation orders in parts of the Holley-Crawfordsville area, Level 2 evacuation warnings south of Highway 228 and Level 1 "get ready" advisories from Brownsville to Sweet Home. Community members are exercising varying degrees of preparedness as the fire continues to be 0% contained.

“I’m hopeful it won’t hit us, but my other half wants us to be prepared,” said Crawfordsville resident Amber Remington.

So, at her partner Patrick Reining’s behest, Remington went ahead and packed clothes, photos and more into a trailer. The couple also dropped off their 18-month-old daughter at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Albany, just in case.

“The air isn’t great in Albany, but it’s safer,” she said. “I want us to be under our own roof. We worked hard to have this place.”

Around two dozen trucks — 15 of them with horse trailers attached — were staged outside the Crawfordsville Head Start building to help potential evacuees move their belongings and livestock.

Katie Leasie, a Salem resident and horse trainer, visited Crawfordsville for the first time to lend a hand.

“Currently, I’m out of work because all my horse clients have been evacuated,” Leasie said. “So I’m here to do some good.”

Leasie heard about the evacuation assistance from a Facebook group called COWGIRL 911, which has been coordinating similar efforts throughout the Pacific Northwest this past week.

David Butler, a Lebanon resident helping lead the effort, said he got a call Friday morning asking for help with 53 head of cattle off Brush Creek Road. The retired firefighter said he wanted to do what he could for his mid-valley neighbors.

“I’ve had over 100 phone calls and text messages from people willing to help,” he said. “I’m disabled. I can’t fight fire anymore, but I can still help and do other things.”

The trucks and trailers relocated to the River Center in Lebanon later that afternoon to position themselves midway between Sweet Home and Scio, where residents are threatened by the Beachie Creek Fire to the north.

Butler and Leasie said it was great to see so many people across the state coming together.

“I think everybody that’s here just has the natural impulse to help,” Leasie added. “It’s heartwarming. It makes me proud to be an Oregonian.”

A Brush Creek Road homeowner, who declined to give his name, said he sees looters as a more imminent threat than wildfire.

“Everywhere around here there’s dirtbags running around,” he said. “If we see (the fire) about a mile away, we’d go.”

Just a few miles away, personnel from the Sweet Home Fire District, Mohawk Valley Fire and the Oregon Department of Forestry were containing a 15-acre fire at West Brush Creek.

A separate small fire was reported off High Deck Road in Cascadia, where some of the firefighters from the West Brush Creek blaze were later deployed. After he heard about the fire, nearby Cascadia Drive resident Mitchell Banks stood watch at his neighborhood’s entrance due to looting concerns.

“It’s crazy (and) a little too close to home,” he said of the wildfire threats. “It’s nerve-wracking.”

Caleb Keeny, who lives about a mile away, said he raced home from volunteering to help monitor Marcola-area residences for looters to make sure his property was safe.

Having his own trailer-mounted water tank, a fire extinguisher and hand tools “helped tremendously” on the fire until the Sweet Home Fire District got there. Keeny said he’s also lucky his half-brother’s dad owns a thousand-gallon water tank and was able to help fight the fire.

Keeny said wildfires can start due to a small moment of ignorance, such as incorrectly disposing of a cigarette butt, which he said he suspects was the case near his home.

“They don’t just happen,” he said. “It sucks. We can at least make sure people aren’t getting robbed, or that there aren’t other people like this making fires.”

Deputy Chief Doug Emmert of the Sweet Home Fire District received the call about the quarter-acre fire there. With resources spread so thin, he said, it was nice to see that neighbors were being proactive about getting the fire contained.

“The locals were working on it already when we got here and had knocked it down pretty well,” he said. “Then it became just a matter of getting a line around it and mopping it up. People are amazing. They’re coming out, and we appreciate the help, frankly.”

Reporter Nia Tariq can be reached at 541-812-6091 and nia.tariq@lee.net.

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