My Family Was Trapped By The West Coast Wildfires

by Bradie McColly
Originally Published: 
My Family Was Trapped By The West Coast Wildfires
Courtesy of Bradie McColly

It’s about 10:30 at night when my husband Grant and I start to get a little more concerned about the fires. At that point they’re still in Gates, Oregon, but that’s only five miles away from where we live. The winds were so bad our metal carports had blown through the neighbor’s house, and our stuff taking shelter under it spread over the property.

Our kids are asleep. We don’t have an evacuation notice. But just in case, I start looking for important documents. We gather laptops that carry wedding photos and baby pictures; we get together our belongings from the safe and start to pack a few outfits to head to my dad’s for “a couple days.”

By now it’s 11 PM. I get a call from a good friend saying it’s time to go, warning me of what she is seeing. I start packing more quickly, loading things into the car as fast as we can before waking the boys.

We walk out our front door to a view of flames, and an oppressive wave of heat and smoke. We move faster, carrying the kids to the car, all disoriented from only being asleep a few hours. We tell them to pick their most favorite stuffie, and I shove it into their pillow with a blanket for each of them.

We are loaded.

But I’ve forgotten things. I go back in for formula. Then my phone and purse. Then we go back in for dog food. Then we go back in looking and searching for our cat. Over and over again we go back in, searching for that damn cat.

Courtesy of Bradie McColly

I hear a truck outside, and someone yelling to evacuate as the fire is too close. Still no evacuation notice, but it’s too late for that; things are burning next door. The hillside attached to our neighborhood is on fire. I’m wearing my muck boots and a PJ dress and having a hard time breathing going in and out of the house. All the animals are stuffed into the car. Crap! We forgot the bunny — I go back inside once again to grab it.

At this point I’m crying at the thought of leaving our livestock and our missing cat. But there’s no time. We close the door without even locking it and we drive down our driveway. There’s fire two hundred feet to the east of us, so there’s no way out in that direction. We cannot go south because the Mill City bridge is closed. We drive west; the plan was to go to Salem to my dad’s, but 150 cars are already in line. Stopped. There’s a fire up ahead, and we can’t get through that way either.

We are trapped.

There are literally wildfires raging, and closing in, all around us.

At Fishermen’s Bend, a popular recreation area and campground in Mill City, fire is jumping the road, and barricades are holding cars back to keep them from driving through fire. The fire is to the shoulder on both sides of our car; it’s hot. The temperature on the van is steadily rising, and I can see cars changing tires to spares from the heat popping their tires.

Courtesy of Bradie McColly

We are in the middle of an actual nightmare.

We call our pastor for prayer; I look around the car full of children, and my belly holding our baby, and pray. Our pastor is on speaker phone, listening to our fear and helping us through it. I have to call my dad to tell him we’re trapped, to tell him I don’t know how we’re going to get out.

And then, miraculously, Grant sees an opportunity and cuts in between cars and lanes, off the highway and back between emergency vehicles — they aren’t going to chase us, they’re too busy. He gets us through the barricade and through the fire below our tires, and we drive west. And keep driving west. After ten minutes we stop seeing fire, and we can finally breathe and cry with relief. Cars followed the path he created, and I’m sure their occupants are doing the same thing.

It was a close call––a terrifyingly close call–– but our babies are safe.

For information and resources to help victims of the west coast wildfires, click here.

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