‘It came in so fast’: Deputies relive night in Santiam Canyon

Wildfires

2 Marion County Sheriff's Office deputies spent the night of Sept. 7 getting people to safety

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Casey Burnham, the senior deputy sheriff in Marion County, was supposed to be camping with his family on Labor Day. Instead, he answered the call to help save people from flames ripping through the Santiam Canyon.

Dash cam video from Burnham’s patrol car captured his harrowing drive through Mehama as he made his way to Gates. Along the way, he passed an almost never-ending line of headlights as people evacuated burning towns.

“I kept going and as soon as I got to milepost 34 I saw a car stopped and I looked to my right and I saw fire,” Burnham recalled Thursday.

Burnham said he and another deputy with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office went street-to-street blaring their sirens, flashing their lights and “screaming evacuate, evacuate, leave now” as the flames drew closer.

“I could see the fire cresting the ridges and coming toward us,” he said. “It came in so fast. One minute I’m driving and there’s trees down, next minute there’s fire.”

At one point, Senior Deputy Tom Barber pulled up at what used to be Kelly’s Lumber.

“It was fully engulfed,” Barber said. “I was almost so fixated by that because I’d been to Kelly’s before, bought lumber from there before.”

Barber and the Marion County Sheriff’s SWAT Team were sent to evacuate Detroit at around 11 p.m. that same night. Twenty people at a church retreat in Silverton were among those whose lives he helped save.

“By that time, the fire was approaching us and coming up the backside of that church camp,” he said. “You could see the glow, you could just smell it, you could feel it — you could feel that it was coming on and it was time to get those people out.”

Burnham and Barber’s stories highlight the selflessness required of first responders in times of disaster.

“I don’t think any of us thought anything different except we need to save these people’s lives,” said Burnham.

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