Donald Dow, was the first person to get a new home in Blue River, Oregon after the Holiday Farm Fire destroyed the entire community in late summer of 2020. I interviewed Don the day after his home showed up, ten months after his last home burned.
“Back on September 6th or 7th, we had a major wildfire come through and it wiped out all of Blue River proper and 27 miles down McKenzie Highway. A lot of people lost everything, so it’s devastating, but we all have hope that it’s gonna come back.
I had a little one bedroom, one bath modular sitting here that I had just remodeled and put my life savings into. It was home, you know? I mean, it wasn’t big, it wasn’t fancy, but it was mine. And, to come back up here after the fire to see what’s left, it’s pretty devastating. It takes a big toll.
I’d been up here for seven years. I’m disabled. I was disabled with the job, so I took my settlement money from my injury and put everything I had into this place, so I could live comfortably for the rest of my life. And God had other plans.
I was sound asleep about 10 minutes to one and the state police came down the road and said get out now. I jumped up, threw my boots on, stepped out on my front porch and I was surrounded on three sides by the fire. Getting outta here, I was driving over trees and through flames and it was pretty scary.
It was almost three weeks, I think, before they’d allow anybody to come back up. I’d seen video of people that got stuck up here that rode it out. We’ve had wildfires up here before, and we left outta here and figured we’d just be back tomorrow, just like all the rest. You know? And this one was definitely different.
Not a single structure was left standing.
It’s been a nightmare trying to get stuff through the county and jump through all their red tape. It hasn’t been pleasant. My house was originally scheduled to be delivered on February 11th and I just got it yesterday [July 14].
I think it’s about 50 people that have decided to just take their insurance money and buy down in the city and stay down there and put their properties up for sale. There’s a lot of properties up here for sale. Whether they sell or not, who knows? With the housing market like it is, there’s a good possibility it will. And what’s that gonna bring into town? We don’t know whether they’re gonna put tiny homes or if they’re gonna put a mobile home or if they’re gonna put a modular home or build a house. We don’t know. So it’s gonna change. It’s gonna change the way Blue River looks, but it will come back one way or another. It’s just gonna take some time.”
“Well, when I left outta here, I couldn’t find the cat. She’s an outside cat. She’s my mouser. And so I had no choice, but to leave her behind. And I figured, you know—what I saw of the fire and everything—I didn’t figure she made it. I get a notice from a friend that said they saw my cat on Facebook. So I contacted the humane society down in Eugene and said, ‘That looks like my cat.’
So I went down there and sure enough, it was my cat. She had burned her paws and burned off her whiskers and had a little burn on her back. I said, ‘Well, where’d they find her?’ And they said she was sitting over in front of where the store used to be. Right next door. I used to feed her in the mornings and then she’d go over there for second breakfast.
So she was over there waiting for second breakfast. Nobody showed up. So the firefighters found her and they brought her out, down into town and [the humane society] nursed her back to health. I got her back about three months later.”
“Three days before the fire, my sister and her husband were up here for a week visiting. They told me to look for a place for sale so they could move up here. It’s so beautiful up here. And then they left. Three days later, the fire hit, and now they’re not interested.”
“I’ve been a big part of everything up here as far as the clean up and helping people get back. I was up in October, right after the fire. I moved back up in a trailer. So I’ve been up here since then living on a generator and tanking in water. So I’ve been one of the first ones to know what hoops you have to jump through and how to try to get things done, who to contact to get things done. Hopefully people will see my house in here now and see that there’s hope. Yeah. It’s possible. We can all come back if we just knuckle down and do it.
I mean, look at us. You come from nothing and you’re able to come back and you get help from all your neighbors. I’ve been up here running the Cascade Relief Team, cleaning the town and we’ve got volunteers coming in by the hundreds. Mormon churches, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, just people that live in Eugene, coming up here to help clean it up.
With that kind of support system, how can you not come back? How can you not rebuild this? How can you not appreciate this with all the support that we’ve gotten? It’s made it so much easier for us. I mean, when I first came up here, I’m sitting in my trailer and all of a sudden somebody knocks on my door. Nobody that I know. And they hand me a hundred dollar bill. just to help me out with propane or help me out with fuel for the generator.
Out of the blue. It gives you a faith in humanity again when you see that. It kinda wrenches at your heart, you know?
I mean, you got people driving down the road and they got a handful of gift cards and they stopped by whoever they see and they hand you a gift card. You just never expect that kinda stuff. Everybody has their own life and their own problems. You don’t think that they’re gonna come all the way up here to help you with your problems. It really pulls at your heartstrings.”
What have you learned?
“I’m stronger than I gave myself credit for. I lost my sister in December. She wasn’t strong enough to go through all this with her heart and everything. She had a house just down here behind me that she had just bought two months before the fire. The struggle, the stress and all that just took its toll on her.
Getting this house, it’s kind of bittersweet, you know? I had talked her into moving up here with me and got her up here and got her into a place and then she didn’t make it. It’s kind of bittersweet getting the house and her not being here.
I knew it was gonna be a struggle. It was gonna be a fight. But I didn’t have a choice really. I mean, this was all I had. Thank God I had family behind me to help. With the community outreach and everything, there’s a way to do it. It may not be easy. It may not be how you want it, but over time you’ll get there.
One of my favorite sayings through all of this is, ‘If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.’ Yeah. God has a plan for you and it’s gonna turn out the way he wants it to. So you know, keep your faith, keep moving forward.”
What does peace mean to you?
“Right now with me getting my house in yesterday, I’ve never been more peaceful in my life. There’s an end in sight for everything. If you just relax and take things as they come, quit trying to fight everything, it’ll get there and you’ll be at peace.
One of the neighbor girls that used to live here in town, she’s up river now in an RV, but she actually saw the house coming up the highway. Somebody phoned ahead, said it’s on the way. She brought the balloons over and handed them to me when the house got here.
It was a great. I bought the house weeks after the fire. So my mind was all scattered and everything. I couldn’t remember what color I picked. I couldn’t remember what cabinets I picked. What color the carpet was. None of that. So when it got here and I got to walk through it, it was like Christmas again.”
-Have you ever lost everything? How would you begin again?
-Who makes up your support network?
-When has your community been in crisis?
-When has a stranger been generous to help you?
-If you had only a few minutes to gather your things, what would you take?
-When have you seen people work well together?
-If you could start from scratch, what would you like your community to look like?