PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Two days after losing everything to the Tunnel 5 Fire, 69-year-old Underwood resident Will Richards and his family began delivering free coffee to firefighters working to contain the blaze that destroyed their family home.
On Wednesday, the Richards repeated the small act of kindness and plan to continue making morning coffee rounds until the fire is out.
“The coffee was something we could do to contribute,” Richards said. “Tomorrow will be the third day, then the fourth… until it’s done. My daughters went to school with a lot of the people in the fire department. We’re a tight community.”
Residents of Cook-Underwood Road since 1988, Richards and his wife raised their children in the area and have survived multiple wildfire scares — like the Broughton Fire — which burned 250 acres near their property in 2007. However, on July 2, Richards got a call from his neighbor that an especially bad fire was racing up the hillside toward their property.
Rushing home from the golf course, Richards and his daughter pulled up to find the family home in flames. With seconds to react, they saved what they could, including a few cars and his daughter’s beloved labradoodle mix Joey.
Minutes later, everything else would be gone.
“We came down the driveway and got the dog,” he said. “I went into the burning house and the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see. I fumbled around for the car keys and my wife’s purse and drove the cars to the top of the driveway 125 yards away.”
A popular local potter and lamp-maker, Richards lost countless pieces of artwork in the fire that he collected from fellow painters and craftsmen over the years. Also an avid guitar player, the fire also destroyed his large collection of rare and one-of-a-kind guitars, including his classic Brazilian Rosewood Martin.
“The house was full of unique, eclectic pieces,” he said. “I had 30-plus select and vintage instruments and they’re all gone. A left-handed Brazilian Rosewood Martin, you’re never going to find one. They just don’t exist, or nobody is going to give them up.”
Following the fire damage, Richards’ possessions now amount to a few cars, a couple of sets of golf clubs, a chainsaw and the clothes on his back. While he initially dealt with reservations that he could have saved more, Richards said that he’s finding peace in starting over.
“It’s better just to have it all gone and then there’s no baggage,” he said. “It’s liberating in a stupid kind of way. You can go anywhere and there’s no obligations. It’s like when you’re in college and all you have is your bike and a backpack, that’s kind of where we’re at. We could do anything. I joke that I will go to Walmart to get my first pair of shorts and a t-shirt.”
While some of the neighboring houses were saved, the Richards’ bluff-side home with stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood is a complete loss. The forested hillside is also in ruins, they said, transformed into a charred and barren moonscape. A rebuild will take years, but the family said that’s what they hope to do.
“I didn’t think I’d be building a house at 70 years old,” Richards said. “We had the paradise spot on the buff. It’s the kind of property that, if you sell it, you can never get it back, just like that Brazilian Martin.”
With the fire still raging in the gorge, the family is currently living out of the Hood River Inn, where they’re regrouping and putting their lives back together day by day: dealing with insurance, restoring electricity to their property, going to the bank to get a checkbook.
In between the heartache and exhausting tasks, they’re finding joy in giving back. With multiple cars still in their possession and a steady supply of fresh coffee donated by Starbucks, the Richards continue to make their daily coffee runs in hopes of bringing a bit of happiness to those working to save their community.
“My daughter set it up so the Hood River Starbucks provides five or six gallons of coffee,” he said. “We’re donating the delivery service.”