MEHAMA — Although the wind-driven Beachie Creek Fire scorched their yard and destroyed their shop on Jennie Road south of Mehama, Larry and Monica Garrison consider themselves extremely fortunate.
The 150-year-old home they have lived in for 40 years was spared in an area where 19 of 29 homes were consumed by fire.
Wednesday morning, under a thick blanket of smoke, the Garrisons and their friends, Victor and Donna Baumann, surveyed a neighboring house that was destroyed. Only five large stonework pillars remain.
“It was a lovely home,” Monica Garrison said. “The owner is 80 years old and is in Utah with family now.”
“She had the most gorgeous hydrangeas,” Donna Baumann said.
The Garrisons evacuated their 10-acre property about 2:30 a.m. last Tuesday and did not return home until Thursday, not sure what they were going to find.
“We went to Stayton and then we ended up at the KOA near Home Depot in Salem,” Garrison said.
Garrison said the sound of giant wood chippers chewing away at limbs on the highway behind their home was “reassuring.”
None of the family’s four cows, numerous chickens or dog were harmed, although Garrison says the dog is now “neurotic.”
The Garrisons have been sifting through what remains of their shop. There are frameworks to an ATV and a 1973 Honda motorcycle.
Unless it was made of metal, it didn’t survive.
Some wooden fence posts appeared to be floating in air, burned away from the ground and hanging by wires and a few remaining wooden posts.
“Insurance adjusters are so busy and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been asked to pull items out and take photos of what was destroyed,” Larry Garrison said.
Like most shops, the list is long, everything from an antique brass bed to a metal star that hung on the front of the building.
“It is really going to be difficult getting a handle on how many tools we lost,” Garrison said.
His wife said the rural community will rebuild.
“Come back in a year and see how it will have changed,” she said.
Donna Baumann said she and her husband live near Scio.
“We were fine, but it was close,” she said. “We left our home due to the smoke. We have friends in Mill City and Gates who lost everything. Our old family home up there is gone. The whole neighborhood is gone.”
Deputies from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office were stopping vehicles at Cedar Mill Road west of Mill City.
Deputy Aaron Elliott told drivers they could not enter the area unless they lived there and had a photo ID.
Near Mehama, members of the Oregon National Guard were also staffing a roadblock at the intersection of Jennie Road and Highway 22.
Other than two picnic tables and a decorative wishing well, little remains of the North Fork Crossing Restaurant at the southwest corner of the intersection.
Nearby, on the north side of Highway 22, a home remains standing, even though all of its yard was blackened by fire.
To the east of the home, the Oregon Department of Forestry compound was leveled, except for the fire danger reader board.
In Lyons, Chad Namitz was raking leaves from his front yard.
The owner of Chad Namitz Trucking has been told he lost a backhoe to the fire in the Breitenbush area, but hasn’t been allowed to assess the damage for himself.
“I had been doing some thinning work up there for the last three months,” Namitz said.
Namitz has lived in the Lyons area all of his life and said he was about to move a bulldozer to the job site.
“Then Monday, the fire started,” Namitz said.
Adam Smith stopped his pickup to talk to Namitz and said he lost an excavator in the fire on Monument Peak.
“I had been building roads up there,” Smith said. “We had a dozer sitting right next to it and it didn’t burn.”
Smith said he works for R&L Excavating, but is now helping the Oregon Department of Forestry fight fires on Rock Creek.
At Linn County’s John Neal Memorial Park near Lyons, volunteers from the American Red Cross were waiting with a U-Haul truck to hand out free “sifting kits” to burned-out families.
The kits include a wooden-framed sifting tool, a plastic tub, tarp, gloves, face masks, shovel, rake, gloves and two Meals Ready to Eat.
The kits are being manufactured by volunteers at the Silverton Creek Fellowship church in Silverton.
The truck held 75 units. The goal is to produce 12,000 kits to be distributed statewide, the volunteers said.
As of Wednesday, the 191,000-acre Beachie Creek Fire was 20% contained, fire officials reported.
Some 470 residences, 35 commercial structures and 783 nonresidential structures were destroyed by the fire.
There has been damage to 46 residences, five commercial structures and 83 nonresidential structures.
The Beachie Creek and Riverside fires remain one mile apart.
The Riverside Fire is at 136,000 acres.
Also Wednesday, President Donald Trump approved Gov. Kate Brown’s request to declare a federal disaster.
The president’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Lincoln, Marion, Tillamook and Washington counties.
According to information released by the White House, “FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.”
Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.
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