With own homes in evac zones, Clackamas firefighters battle blazes for days on end

Wildfires

A Clackamas Fire District engineer also shares advice for homeowners about protecting their property

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — A Clackamas County man started fighting fires Monday night, then went 50 hours straight with no sleep, bouncing from fire to fire, all while worrying about his own family living in the evacuation zone.

“I’ve probably fought more fire in this last week, than I probably have in the last five years,” Clackamas Fire District engineer Steve McAdoo said Sunday.

The very first fire he got called to was down toward Molalla and the crew had to cut and run within minutes because the winds were so strong.

“It was blowing over the top of us,” McAdoo said.

It wouldn’t be the last time firefighters had to fall back from a blaze.

Clackamas Fire crews battle wildfire flames, Sept. 10, 2020. (KOIN)

“We had several times like that, but that first time was the scariest,” he said. “You can’t breath, you can’t see and you’re trying to disconnect, and we’re all trying to keep track of each other.”

During fleeting breaks, McAdoo spent his time at the fire station, not home with family in Canby and Oregon City, which were dealing with their own evacuation levels.

“That was probably the most stressful thing for me, besides being out there with my crew fighting these fires that never seemed to end, was just making sure my family was safe,” he said. “That’s hard for everybody that’s here on the line.”

Fortunately, McAdoo’s family is safe and his wife was able to get out of town.

But watching so many homes, barns and other structures burn down took a toll.

“All we could do is set up and say, ‘We’re going to attempt to stop the fire here,'” McAdoo said. “We thought we’d be able to save that one, we weren’t. Okay, let’s save the next one. And we weren’t and sometimes we went on down the line.”

Full evacuation map here

The eerie, dark orange sky made it so firefighters were never quite sure what time it was.

Clackamas Fire District engineer Steve McAdoo has been fighting fires for almost a week straight. He shared his experience Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020 (KOIN)

“My crew said that to ourselves several times, ‘What is going on?’ And, ‘When is this going to end?’ Every time we thought we got a break and things were settling down, something else would happen that was even bigger than the last fire we went on,” McAdoo said.

Now that reinforcements have arrived and the weather is looking more favorable, McAdoo and crews are getting a little downtime to shower, re-supply, and rest.

He’s also sharing his advice for homeowners to guard against future wildfires: Defensible space.

“What we see are a lot of homes out there that aren’t defensible,” he said. Trees are too close, shrubs and grass are overgrown, and everything burns too hot and too fast.

McAdoo suspects that “with the way the climate is changing,” these won’t be the last wildfires in the region.

“Get your house ready, cut down those trees, and have some space between the forested area and your home,” he said.

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