My husband, San, and I spent the morning of September 8, 2020 cleaning up damage from the wind storm from the night before then I prepared for a day of errands in Ashland and Medford. Around 11 a.m. I started my car. That is when I saw a column of smoke billowing up in the direction of Ashland. I went back in the house and called my husband to come take a look. I told him it might be a good idea to think about what might be needed if a fire should come our way. After looking at the column of smoke he said, “maybe you should stay home today.” Well, I didn’t stay home. By the time I reached the intersection of West Valley View and South Pacific Hwy. the road South was clogged with traffic so I turned around and decided to do my errands in Medford first.
As I drove to Medford I turned the radio on hoping to hear of any emergency evacuation news. Since there was no mention of a fire in the valley, I proceeded to run errands while keeping the radio on. By 1:30 p.m. I was in East Medford on North Phoenix Road. I could see the smoke growing closer to Phoenix and became alarmed. I headed home via N. Phoenix Road. I was able to get across Hwy. 99 in bumper to bumper traffic by going through Ray’s Market to Cheryl Street, past the High School on Rose Street and eventually reached Colver Road. The oncoming traffic on Colver Road by now was a mix of bumper to bumper cars and Semi trucks heading towards Medford. I was headed toward the home we had just moved to 5 months earlier at the railroad crossing on Talent’s NW border. The cars traveling in my direction were stop and go.
When I reached my home, my daughter in law and two grand daughters were watching the helicopters fly back and forth on the highway near us. I decided we wouldn’t wait any longer to be told to evacuate. My husband refused to come with us confident the 3 acres of green grass surrounding our home would keep us safe. I loaded my disabled mother, my 3 ½ year old granddaughter and my dog in the car while my daughter in law followed me with her 1 ½ year old daughter in her car. We headed to my brother’s house in West Medford by turning off Colver Road at Pioneer Road and taking Dark Hollow. When we arrived at my brother’s house around 3:00 p.m. he was surprised to see us. He didn’t even know there was a fire. Soon my Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin arrived from their home in Medford Estates, and finally my son arrived but without my husband. A retired Ashland fire fighter friend called to see if we were all safe. When I told him that Sanford had stayed behind he was very concerned. He said the fire had likely already burned through that area. That’s when our son left to try to find his dad.
It was dark by the time Justin and San arrived in Medford. My sister in law prepared food for all 10 evacuees while we watched reports on the laptop, I had brought with me, and the television. After eating, my husband said he wanted to go back to check on things. I refused to take him. Sanford is legally blind with less than 10% of his field of vision, so, unless someone else was crazy enough to drive him home he would just have to stay put with the rest of us. That is when my brother volunteered to take him home. What’s a woman to do with men like that? Off they went. By this time there were wide spread power outages in Talent and Phoenix. Orange embers and flames lit up the darkness looking East and South. We listen to the emergency radio calls on the KOBI facebook page. It didn’t sound good. It sounded bad, very bad.
Sometime among reports that Medford Estates had burned, Phoenix and Talent were in ashes, the Rogue Valley Manor was being evacuated, and my brother’s neighborhood was at a level 2 evacuation notice, by brother called on his cell phone to tell me that our property was surrounded by 20 foot tall flames of fire. Sanford was driving the riding lawnmower along the burning fence line hoping to keep the flames from reaching our home. When my son heard this, he took off again to help his dad. I reminded my brother that we had a generator that could run the well pump so they could use water to fight the flames if they were crazy enough to stay there. Well, they got the generator going and gathered up all the hoses they could find. My brother directed my husband to cut the grass between the burning blackberries on the western fence line between our field and our neighbor’s field before it reached the large briar patch with trees around our neighbor’s house. While driving the mower through the gate opening my husband ran into the burning fence post. Flames went under the mower and up the sides of the mower but San was able to back up before damage was done to the mower or himself. My brother fought the fire with a shovel and by carrying buckets of water across the hay field from the house to quench the burning fence posts and stop the progression of the fire along the western fence while my husband subdued the flames on the eastern side of the property with a garden hose and sprinklers.
When my brother called to report that the flames had died down enough that it would be safe to come home, I drove the back roads, arriving home around midnight with flames still burning along the railroad tracks as far as I could see both ways. When my husband left the field around 2 a.m. on September 9, we could still hear explosions in the distance. When we fell into a troubled sleep, we had no idea how much of Talent was left or if the fire would flare up in the night, but, because we had a generator, we had water and lights and believed we would be safe for the time being.
We wouldn’t find out for days what had been burned and what had been spared because there were road blocks in many places. My son’s Talent home on 2nd street was spared but because the power was out and the water was off his family ate meals and stayed with us during the day and then went home at night to prevent looting. A neighbor living in Candlewood Park came by during the days before Talent’s water was on to fill up 5-gallon jugs from our well to share with his neighbors. We had to drive the back roads to West Medford to get gasoline for the generator. Nearly every time we drove to Medford we were met with new road blocks that changed from day to day because new fires flared up around Phoenix. On one trip to get gas, my son was blocked on his way home from driving to Colver Road. He had to go back to Griffin Creek and drive up the mountain roads, out of cell phone range, to Anderson Creek Road and come down Wagner Creek Road to get home. The deputies manning the road blocks couldn’t tell drivers which roads to take to get home. We just had to figure it out ourselves.
My family has lived in Talent for nearly 60 years so we were able to figure it out, getting food and gas by using different back country roads between Talent and Medford, but we couldn’t figure out how to get to Ashland. We had been told that Talent Avenue was closed, the Phoenix, Talent, and North Ashland I-5 Exits were closed and Hwy. 99 was closed between the intersections with South Stage Road and South Valley View Road, but once, while I was on my way back from Costco, I got on the freeway without thinking, didn’t remember the closures until I got to exit 21. I had to turn around at exit 14 and go back to Medford and then through trial and error discover the path back to Colver Road via Dark Hollow, etc. When Voorhies Road was blocked I asked the Deputy Sherriff, “How do I get back to Talent from here?” He didn’t know. Good thing my mother and father loved trying new country roads when I was a kid growing up on Wagner Creek Road. By the time I got home with a Costco roasted chicken and Costco pumpkin pie it was late and I was tired but I made mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and green salad. That evening I celebrated a Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family. Thanking God for surviving the worst natural catastrophe we had ever experienced.