PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When an inferno roared through the Santiam Canyon in early September, no structure was guaranteed to survive — not even the Oregon Department of Forestry’s office in Lyons.
The building burned to the ground.
“Speechless. It’s something that I definitely thought I’d never see in my life,” Levi Hopkins said, describing how he felt when he saw the building on fire. “It’s extremely hard to see… one of the most defeating moments of my life.”
Hopkins, who works as a wildland supervisor at ODF’s Lyons office, said it felt “defeating” because he and his crew are trained to fight wildfires and there they were, watching their own building go up in flames.
He and his crew had started fighting fires the day before Labor Day. They continued to work through the wind storm and were finally taking a short break overnight when they were told to evacuate the office.
Hopkins had been driving the engines to Salem to make sure they were out of the fire’s path. When he made his last trip back to the Lyons office, he saw it was on fire.
“I know there’s several coworkers of mine that have worked here for most of their career, if not their entire careers, and I know it was extremely devastating,” Hopkins said. “It’s still hard to really gather that it’s actually gone.”
Hopkins’ parents live in Detroit and lost their home in the Beachie Creek Fire, but Hopkins doesn’t think the fire has impacted him as much as it’s impacted some of his crew members who live in Lyons and Mill City. He said many of them continued to work while their families fled their homes.
“They showed up every single day and answered the phone every single time I called because they wanted to be here,” Hopkin said. “They wanted to do whatever they could.”
He said some of them feel like they didn’t do enough for their community, but he’s reassuring them that they did.
The loss of the office building was a tragedy for ODF, but things could have been much worse. Their garage and tree seedling refrigeration building were left standing. Their hoses and pumps weren’t damaged.
“You may not see us every day now when you drive by, but we are still here. We’re still here to serve Oregonians and we’ll be here next summer with a fire crew, with a great fire crew, and we’ll be ready to do what we need to do,” he said.
These buildings aren’t as visible from Highway 22, which has led some to believe that everything at the location was destroyed. ODF hasn’t set a date to start rebuilding the office, but Hopkins is reassuring the community that they’re still around and they’ll be ready if another fire impacts the region in summer 2021.