PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Labor Day 2020 was a day that residents and 911 dispatchers in western Oregon will never forget.
Hurricane-force winds out of the east whipped through the Santiam Canyon on September 7, fanning wildfires into raging infernos. The flames moved quickly and calls started flooding into Marion and Linn county dispatchers.
Frantic callers described nightmarish scenes to dispatchers who were, in many cases, unable to send immediate help as firefighting crews were spread thin.
“It’s starting to spread to the house,” one caller said. “My barn’s on fire — there’s still nobody here.”
In many cases, dispatchers could only try to calm people and encourage them to leave if they were in immediate danger.
Other people calling from Gates tried to get help for firefighters stuck in harm’s way.
“Just help those firefighter, please! There’s so many of them down there!” pleaded a caller who wanted dispatchers to let crews know about houses that had already been evacuated. “But the house across the street I forgot about, I don’t know if they know — oh my God.”
Dispatchers took call after call as the clock ticked and that fateful night turned into day. To date, the Beachie Creek Fire has burned more than 193,000 acres and is 80% contained. Five people died. The cause is still under investigation.