Darlene Sullenger gained a new appreciation for her neighbors after she was allowed to return to her Forest Lane residence on Wednesday evening.
“That was the best experience, all of us just stood outside waving and cheering as everyone came home,” said Sullenger, who operates the Cascade Motel with her husband, Scot.
The Sullengers were among 200 residents on the eastern end of the rural city that were evacuated the day before because of fire danger (see article, page A1.) Many displaced citizens gathered at the local motel before making their way toward a shelter set up across the Columbia River in Stevenson, Wash.
They voiced almost universal disbelief that their town was rapidly resembling a war zone. Three air tankers roared above the populations of 1,140 residents and helicopters whirled overhead carrying 1,000 gallon drums of water.
“I feel sick, I’m just watching and waiting,” said Bob Stratton, who has been a Cascade Locks resident for 30 years.
Stratton said he learned about the fire while returning home from a trip to Eastern Oregon. But, instead of being able to get to Cascade Locks quickly to check on his property, he was forced to take a lengthy detour route along State Route 14 with many other motorists. His initial relief at finding his house untouched by fire was replaced by fear as he watched the flames creep closer.
So, Stratton joined many of his neighbors on the street corner as the haze of smoke grew heavier with each passing hour. They routinely flagged down passing police cars for updates on the situation and finally headed toward temporary quarters when it became apparent the fire was not going to be quickly extinguished.
Meanwhile, Kevin Benson, the owner of the local KOA campground, brought many of his 40 renters to the Sullenger property. They had been ordered to leave the premises by firefighters shortly after the blaze started along Interstate 84 near Herman Creek Campground.
“Everyone that’s been affected we pretty much know, it’s a small town,” said Benson.
However, not all of the people caught in the unfolding drama were Cascade Locks residents. Brad Holman of Aberdeen, Wash., was forced to leave his travel trailer at the KOA when firefighters hurried everyone off the premises. He and his fellow workers from CGC Logging were determined to “cut a trail” if necessary to reclaim the personal property.
Scot Sullenger, who serves as a Cascade Locks Port Commissioner, joined many other city officials in the belief that the threat of fire would be reduced with forests that were better managed.
“This is a thinning issue, they (U.S. Forest Service) need to reduce the fuel load because we’re always going to have winds in the Gorge,” he said.