PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Bootleg Fire has consumed more than 200,000 acres, including dozens of structures and what one man called his life’s work.
The Bootleg Fire is currently the largest fire burning in the nation. It’s threatening nearly 2,000 structures and is 0% contained. Drought conditions, low humidity and high temperatures have fueled its growth, prompting Level 3 “Go Now” evacuations.
The fire swept through Marc Valens’ ranch on Thursday night. The next day, Valens was able to return with the help of a US Forest Service worker, only to find that every structure he’d built over the years was gone.
Valens said this year marks the 50th anniversary since he bought the land and built a cabin with the help of some college friends.
“We cut logs from the property, put them on our shoulders and carried them over and that was my home for 11 years,” he said.
Over the years, Valens built more structures including a studio, a hangar, a house and the caretaker’s cabin — all of which had to be left behind in the path of the Bootleg Fire. He said things were looking good for the ranch even
“At that time, the Forest Service thought that the fire was going to die down. They spent the last 15 years thinning and under-burning and doing all this fire safe stop. It was no match for this monster,” he said. “We thought were going to spend Wednesday night there and then we got a phone call a little before dark and said get out of there.”
Valens and the ranch caretaker, Frank Smith, packed up and left. It was the last time they would see the ranch as it was.
“When you see some of the pictures of the remains of the buildings, it breaks my heart,” Valens said. “It’s my life’s work and so I don’t have time to rebuild it all.”
Valens said the caretaker’s cabin was a total loss.
“It’s all Frank has,” he said. “He didn’t have time to grab anything except his two dogs and he got out of there. He’s totally homeless now.”
Valens said Smith is staying at a hotel in Klamath Falls for now. Valens and his wife set up a GoFundMe campaign to help Smith get back on his feet.
“The power of nature — I’m in awe. I’ve seen plenty of forest fires that have burned through but this thing is a monster,” Valens said. “My word to anybody who says ‘well I don’t want to leave my place’ — if you got a fire this big, you better get out of there. There is no way you can sit there with a garden hose and protect your house, you’re going to get killed if you don’t get out of there.”