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Ropp Family turns farm into evacuation campground
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Ropp Family turns farm into evacuation campground

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Jennifer Thompson said she and her husband, Darren, didn't sleep at all last Monday night as the rural Stayton/Mehama couple monitored weather and fire conditions in the Santiam Canyon on a police scanner.

By the next morning, the Beachie Creek Fire had rapidly moved south and was threatening parts of Marion and Linn counties.

“Tuesday morning, we saw the red glow and that was it,” Thompson said. “We called Jess (Ropp) and asked if we could come down.”

Thompson said the family had already packed the night before and was ready to hit the road quickly.

Ropp and his wife, Greta, own an 18-acre farm on Eicher Road east of Albany. He works at Coastal Farm & Ranch, so he knows a lot of farm folks from the mid-valley.

Last week, their farm — which borders a 45-acre lake — was turned into a temporary campground and evacuation center for families displaced by the Beachie Creek and Holiday Farm fires that surround the mid-valley.

The two families have become friends over the years as the Thompsons purchased feed for their cows and horses at Coastal.

Ropp has put a message on Facebook offering space at the family farm for anyone displaced by the fire.

“It went viral,” Ropp said. “It was amazing.”

He said people came from Sweet Home, Mehama, Mill City, Crawfordsville, Holley and Salem.

At least 40 people showed up with animal trailers, and four came in campers.

“We had 19 horses, 10 ponies, eight llamas, 16 sheep, three pigs, 42 cows, eight chickens, seven rabbits, 11 dogs, eight cats and two turkeys,” Ropp said. “And lots of kids.”

Ropp said members of Fairview Mennonite Church donated food and the church sewing group donated blankets. His parents work at the education service district in Albany, and some of their coworkers contributed as well.

Other friends donated hay and animal feed. Coastal also provided metal cattle panels to make temporary corrals.

Family members cooked supper for the group.

“Most folks are leaving today,” Ropp said Monday morning. “We are going to keep a few cows and horses for a while.”

Ropp said his family has “been blessed with this farm, so we should bless others. We had the ability and saw the need.”

Ropp said his phone was ringing “every 15 to 20 minutes at one point.”

Isaiah Ropp, 13, was sporting a big cowboy hat and belt buckle and said he has been helping take care of the animals.

“It has been crazy fun,” he said.

Jennifer Thompson said the family home has been spared.

“A neighbor has been keeping us informed and watching for potential looters,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the family called the Ropps “because we knew they were out of the danger zone.”

The Thompsons have a small living quarters in their horse trailer. They brought two cows, three horses and seven cats.

“It’s been great,” Thompson said. “We have met a lot of wonderful people from all over the place. When someone pulls in, everyone helps set up panels and helps out.”

Thompson said her two children, Ty, 14, and Natalie, 12, have enjoyed the camaraderie as well.

“We feel safe to go home now,” Thompson said.

Monday morning the Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported that all but one person previously reported as missing have been located in areas affected by the Beachie Creek Fire, which damaged Mill City, Lyons, Gates and Mehama.

There have been four fatalities in the fire.

Starting Monday, FEMA’s National Urban Search & Rescue Response System began assisting the Marion County Sheriff’s Office with search efforts.

The team was established in 1989 and utilizes trained dogs and special equipment to search through fire and debris.

Anyone with loved ones missing in Marion County is asked to call 503-588-5032.

As of late Monday, there were 34 active wildfires in Oregon that have burned more than 935,000 acres in one week. The state average is 500,000 acres for an entire year.

There have been 10 confirmed deaths statewide.

Gov. Kate Brown asked President Donald Trump on Monday to issue a major disaster declaration because Oregon “has been pushed to its limits.”

A major disaster declaration would provide the state with access to federal funding for Oregonians who have lost their homes or businesses in the fires.

Nearly 17,000 residences are under a Level 3 evacuation order and more than 18,000 homes are under a Level 2 be prepared order because of the Beachie Creek Fire.

The blaze encompasses 188,000 acres and is within 1 mile of the Riverside Fire in Clackamas County, which is 135,000 acres.

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