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Oregon Business Owner On The Holiday Farm Fire


As furious wildfires tear through the West, they are erasing entire towns, businesses and livelihoods. In Oregon, the Holiday Farm Fire has ravaged more than a hundred thousand acres and devastated the small mountain town of Blue River, east of Eugene. Chris LaVoie owned McKenzie River Mountain Resort in Blue River. His business and home were destroyed by the fire. We reached him in Eugene, and he says when he got word the fire was headed his way, he headed cabin to cabin, door to door to warn his guests. And then he told his family, it's time to go.

CHRIS LAVOIE: We started driving. And you could see, up on the hill across the river from us, a complete inferno. It was these giant red and orange balls of flames. Just the whole thing was engulfed. It was just a ball of flames. And the wind's blowing. The smoke and ashes are coming everywhere.

CHANG: Yeah.

LAVOIE: And so we're just hoping that the road's not going to be blocked getting down and we're going to get out 'cause, of course, by this time, there's a string of people trying to get out. And then the whole town of Eugene here - it's still just smoky and ashed from all over that. So it's not like we escaped any of that. There's no impending fires, so that part's better.

CHANG: Right. And I understand that the way you found out you lost your business was from a video of all the damage.

LAVOIE: (Laughter).

CHANG: What did you...

LAVOIE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

CHANG: ...See in that video?

LAVOIE: Well, the video shows somebody driving through the town of Blue River, and it starts at the little downtown area, which is very small. It's not like there's charred standing buildings, for the most part. The buildings are just completely gone...

CHANG: Yeah.

LAVOIE: ...With a few remains here and there. And that's really weird - is like this big bomb hit, and everything just got completely destroyed. And then they crossed the bridge, and my property's right after that on the left. And you can see our historic ranger cabin. And there's the stone fireplace. That's all that's left. And then you roll up to the main lodge, and the building's just completely gone. So, you know, you vacillate. I vacillate between, you know, wanting to cry, holding back the tears, crying and just, you know, trying to be optimistic or making a joke just to try and distract myself. Yeah.

CHANG: I understand that there are still a lot of people missing. Have you been able to find and locate the people you have been worrying about?

LAVOIE: A lot of people so far have been accounted for. I know that there are people who've passed that they have not shared the names yet. I don't know who they are. But it's still scary and heartbreaking. And there's so much, you know, loss all around. Sometimes it's just a bit overwhelming to take it all in.

CHANG: What about all of your staff members at the McKenzie River Mountain Resort? How are they doing?

LAVOIE: Everybody is safe, and that's the primary one. But, you know, a lot of our people who were housekeeping or groundskeeping - it's not like - you know, those aren't big-paying jobs where people have big nest eggs saved up.

CHANG: Yeah.

LAVOIE: Many of them lived in RVs on the property, or they lived on the property in staff housing. And that's gone. So we just set up a GoFundMe page to try and help that out.

CHANG: So in the next several days, several weeks, what's at least the immediate plan of action for you?

LAVOIE: Well, my first desire is to get on the ground and see exactly what is left, if anything. A lot of the landscape is devastating to - I mean, we're a vacation place. A lot of the old resources, employers - there used to be a log mill back in the day and other things. They've left. And so I think that makes it hard if all the jobs have left. And of course, now, with a lot of the homes gone, I mean, it's - I don't - I'm not sure how the whole town's going to recover.

CHANG: I am so sorry, Chris, for what is happening to you and everyone in your community right now. Thank you so much for taking the time and I wish you the best of luck.

LAVOIE: Well, thank you for letting me share my story.

CHANG: Chris LaVoie owned McKenzie River Mountain Resort in Blue River, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.