Usually, when Oregonians want to escape from summer heat and wildfire smoke, the Oregon Coast is the place to be.
Not this time, not in summer 2020, when high winds are fanning flames across the state, creating smoky skies, burning businesses and homes to the ground, and forcing residents and visitors alike to flee for safety.
Working remotely as a Portland Monthly editorial intern, I had headed to Lincoln City for a post-Labor Day getaway, anticipating the crowds would be gone and we’d have the beach to ourselves. By 8 p.m. Monday, the sky had turned hazy, bringing with it the smell of campfire. Winds were picking up but weren’t alarming. By 1 a.m. there was cause for concern. Outside the windows were strong winds, and we had lost all power. Assuming things would get better, I went back to sleep, and woke up at 8 a.m. Tuesday to a Martian setting. The light pouring in was red and ethereal, the freezer had leaked all its ice, and the clocks displayed no time. Even my iPhone’s LTE service was no longer.
Like everyone else, we tried to leave town. The streetlights were inoperable, creating mass lines of stop-and-go traffic. Our initial escape out Highway 18 was futile, the road closed from downed power lines, and smoke from a fire blazed in the distance. As fire engines roared past, we headed north toward Tillamook. Once there, we noticed most of that city, too, didn’t have power, and our phones still displayed “No Service.” It wasn’t until 30 miles outside of Portland that I started receiving late texts.
By Wednesday afternoon, a swath of Lincoln City was under an immediate evacuation order, with the rest of the city under orders to be ready to evacuate if necessary.