We had no sooner adjusted programs and protocols to help TCTC’s families cope working, studying, socially distancing and living with COVID-19; civil unrest, and a toxic political season, when an historic Labor Day windstorm blasted the Willamette Valley with electrical outages and flailing power lines that sparked wildfires. The intense smoke invoked Stage 2 Readiness for us, and 15 hours later all 15 of TCTC’s horses were evacuated and people with fewer animals had moved into our house/barns to wait things out here, not knowing what they’d witness when allowed to return home.
Our first evacuation, from Wilsonville to Ukiah, seemed far enough away with a convoy of one support vehicle for five packed trucks pulling loaded horse trailers six hours east up the Columbia Gorge on I-84. We could hardly see the guardrails but were assured there was 11-mile visibility in Ukiah.
Within an hour of our arrival there, smoke surging up the Gorge ahead of us had filled the Camas Valley and it was nearly as bad there as it was at home. However, winds cleared the air and raining ash, giving us respite from an eerie pink sun for hours at a time each day. We felt safer without wildfires approaching from three fronts. Until two days later.
Unexpected lightening and suspected arson ignited fires on two sides of the ranch, only 5 and 11 miles away respectively. We had to immediately evacuate and abandon our second home to new lines of fire. The difference was that this time, Walt and two other volunteers had returned to the Valley with their trucks, leaving us short drivers and vehicles to pull the trailers. With help from a mom and 7 Ukiah teenagers we deployed again, and a network of friends familiar with the area as far away as Idaho located another place to accommodate TCTC’s herd for the night. We had no sooner mobilized, packed up and deployed with borrowed vehicles than the Forest Service notified us the evening’s inversion of cold, moist air was damping out the fires. We were safe.
We had survived a second threat. I’m not sure we had much adrenaline left at that point. It took a week to regroup, face the trip home with our original crew, and welcome help from even more neighbors.
The aftermath, resettling/stocking all the horses, gear, vehicles, feed supplies, records, etc., while resuming life/work/developments/events here full boar…well, let’s just say it’s “on-going”. Though safe and sound, as an Oregonian who has lived in “green” and “emerald” landscapes most my life with university friends called either “DUCKS” or “BEAVERS”, I never dreamed we’d have to evacuate for FIRE in the Willamette Valley. Flooding, wind, tree-fall, eruptions, yes. But fire? Never! Walking away from two homes in a week’s time taking nothing but human and animal souls along with just enough food and equipment to keep them fed and healthy away from home for an unknown time, was a bit over the top!
ve had enough run-ins with fire in Montana and Eastern Oregon through my life to be grateful I survived them. TCTC has never had a real-life scenario where we’ve been affected by anything of this magnitude. We went from no tests to warp speed within hours. At the end of the day, we were positive our mitigation plan had protected the horses and people here. TCTC’s emergency and evacuation plans developed five years ago when I was preparing for GFAS-verification as an equine sanctuary; our (mostly inexperienced) volunteers; staff, and the horses, handled it with sterling aplomb. Volunteers came equipped with bagels for those of us who hadn’t eaten; unexpected expertise, truck tire gauges that proved invaluable once we were underway; extra masks and safety equipment, optional safe haven for the horses along the way, gassing up a convoy, and everywhere helping hands, giving back all the positive energy TCTC offers our people and horses. Community connections arose anew, often where least expected, embodying my belief that everyone here helps create “here.”
Through the destruction and loss brought by Oregon’s wildfires glimmers of hope came from local citizens banding together to support one another. We saw proud but tired helpers emerge from breathing polluted air as they labored without a word of complaint. Damage just over the river was unspeakable. A smoking ruin.
I am filled with humility and compassion for the families there who suffered loss. Some of the folks with fewer animals who took refuge in our home arrived devastated, sure they had already lost their homes, animals they left behind, a lifetime’s mementos and property. Friends lost friends, pets and family members.
We felt safer with refugees here in our home as we’d been warned of vandals and an arsonist plying the neighborhood. We moved all gas/gas-powered vehicles outside into the pasture as far from our buildings as we could get them, then walked away. I literally didn’t turn off a light or lock a thing, not even my office which controls our internet since people would need it all, especially food and bathrooms. I grabbed empty crates and stuffed in financial notebooks and irreplaceable business records from the safe so I could continue work as needed remotely if “worst case” materialized.
Infernos throughout the state razed places we love to ash, then powered it hundreds of miles away to Ukiah to silently settle, coating every inch of the property there, inside and out. It’s livable but the cleanup will take days and a remote staff. It will wait for another day.
Celebrating our essential workers took priority with a socially isolated, masked, “trick-or-treat” and Halloween event. Our dazed, lethargic depletion morphed into the energized creativity and preparation for a special event honoring TCTC’s families as their, and your, support through the upheaval and uncertainty we’ve all just lived through, have made it clear that TCTC’s work is important, valued, and must persist.
Our commitment to our mission has not wavered and we’re grateful that you stand with us and encourage this critically needed sanctuary serving not only our equines, but so many individuals, families and communities here. THANK YOU and stay tuned for our upcoming introduction to TCTC’s latest equine, Daley, an endangered Lippizan from Kentucky!
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TCTC is known globally as a GFAS-verified 501(c)3 non-profit equine sanctuary and forever home for 12-15 horses, with volunteers from not only Oregon, but international visitors with cultural exchanges from Africa, Canada, England, Germany, Holland, Israel, Mexico, Scotland and Thailand. EVERY TCTC HORSE has a story. We hope to showcase each of them and the people who care for them in upcoming newsletters. These horses would have been killed if they hadn’t found TCTC. Instead, they have a new life full of love and meaningful work with humans, most of them children, from surrounding communities, who benefit from working with the horses and TCTC’s community gardens, arts and nature.
Trillium Creek Training and Rehabilitation Coalition is a 503(c)3 nonprofit with 10 acres of woods, trails, water, gardens, orchards, and 12 horses who have been healed and retrained to safely offer relationships with humans who are learning to be resourceful, self-reliant, community-oriented, and dedicated to sustainable practices that enhance the quality of their lives, the land, and the planet.