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Oregon Resident Discusses Losing Home In Almeda Fire


Wildfires continue to burn up and down the West Coast this weekend from the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California to western Oregon. The rain helps tamp some of the blazes. Carol Berger and her husband, Fred, lost their home in Talent, Ore., just outside Ashland when the Almeda Fire swept through their town. She joins us now from the Elks Lodge in Ashland, where they've been providing meals and support. Carol, thank you for being with us.

CAROL BERGER: I'm happy to be here.

SIMON: Well, tell us what you've been through. I understand you and your husband had duffel bags packed and emergency supplies stashed under your bed.

BERGER: Yes, we did. I went to an emergency preparedness training two years ago and followed instructions.

SIMON: So I am told a week ago Tuesday around 11 a.m. you got the order to evacuate, but you had to do a couple of things first - a couple of important things - didn't you?

BERGER: Yes. We had heard that my 93-year-old mother, who is in a memory care facility 10 minutes away from me - I got a phone call saying there was a fire within reach of their building, and could I come and help evacuate?

SIMON: Oh, no.

BERGER: I live 10 minutes away. And so we rushed there to rescue my mom.

SIMON: And she was there, and she was all right.

BERGER: Someone had already come to their assistance. The residents were all loaded in vans and ready to go. So my husband and I were able to immediately return home and begin to evacuate ourselves.

SIMON: And you had to take another important member of the family with you, didn't you?

BERGER: Our little dog, Skipper (ph), yes.

SIMON: So as you were evacuating, what were you seeing?

BERGER: As we drove away from the house, I could see flames in the field right beside our street. I really had no time to do anything but speed away.

SIMON: And what happened then?

BERGER: We were pretty sure our house was gone, but we stayed there until sheriff came up and said that we all needed to evacuate to Central Point to the fairgrounds. There was going to be a staging area there.

So we were - they were milling around. There were people in all states of anxiety and distress. We were very conscious of COVID, and so we were kind of afraid to go into the auditorium where people were gathered. We just hung outside and waited for information as it would come dribbling in.

SIMON: What was your frame of mind like?

BERGER: Surprisingly calm. I'm an occupational therapist, and my career was at the Department of Veterans Affairs working with veterans coming back from Iraq and with cognitive injuries. And I had a lot of strategies for being calm, focused. And I got to practice what I preached.

And my husband is a clinical social worker retired from the VA, and his work was with homeless people. So we felt pretty confident that with his knowledge of resources, we would know who to go to and what to do.

SIMON: Carol, may I ask, what about your home?

BERGER: Dust and ashes and rubble - there's absolutely nothing left. It was an extremely hot fire, they say. Nothing was recognizable. Even - I could see people had safes - big metal safes - you know, the kind you just put all your important papers in. And I did have one friend who was so happy when she saw it still there. And she opened it, and everything inside was ash. It was that hot.

SIMON: What kind of shape will the town be in, do you think?

BERGER: Our entire side of the street for several miles is completely destroyed. Right across the street, everything is untouched and pristine. On that side of the street, many of the residents are low-income, Section 8 housing, immigrant communities, elderly and disabled. And thank God they're the ones who were not touched at all. The city center was untouched.

The community will go on. And I think what's wonderful is, you know, if we have restaurants and coffeehouses and places to gather, we will remain a community. There's signs all over the place that says, Talent Strong, and I really feel that people are taking that to heart.

SIMON: Carol Berger of Talent, Ore., thank you. And good luck to you and your husband and everybody in town.

BERGER: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.