MARION COUNTY, OR (KPTV) - An Oregon firefighter is sharing her story after she became trapped in the Santiam wildfire near Detroit with some 60 other people earlier this week.
Laura Harris works for the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District and was on duty on Monday night when the wildfire, fueled by intense winds, blew up, burning homes and threatening lives. Harris says she was working with other first responders to get people to safety when it became apparent that they might need to be rescued themselves.
“We were starting to see flames coming in pretty close to us and the winds were blowing it just right toward us," Harris said. “A couple of our firefighters were calling their families to say they loved them – it kind of got to that point. It was scary.”
They ended up gathered at the Mongold Day Use Area right off Detroit Lake.
"We were having people stay in their car, we had a few on foot and on bicycles, we had them sit in the fire engine for protection from the wind and the smoke,” Harris said.
Harris says among the group were several children under the age of 6.
"They didn’t have any shoes on, any jackets, so we were able to donate a couple pairs of socks to them to keep them warm," Harris said.
While evacuees waited and watched, some firefighters scrambled to try to find any escape route out, but it seemed impossible.
“We called in National Guard helicopters to come evacuate us," Harris said.
Harris said dangerous condition prevented the rescue, forcing them to wait for hours, watching the flames.
“We were wide awake, watching the fire, we had fire glow 365 degrees around us," Harris said. “I took solace that my family was already evacuated.”
Finally, the forest service found a way out along forest service roads that eventually led to Government Camp near Mt. Hood. With a slow convoy of about 30 cars, getting there was equally terrifying, Harris said.
“We were actually driving through fire a little bit there," Harris said. "We could feel the heat coming into our vehicles.”
Now, Harris says she couldn't be more grateful for the forest service. She says she hopes her story of survival will remind other people to stay out of the fire zones.
On Wednesday night, the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District said that Detroit City Hall had burned to the ground. The building also serves as the fire department, and they lost one of their fire trucks in the flames.
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