Scores of people flocked into the visitor information center at Crissey Field over the weekend, many of them seeking not the best art gallery to visit, nor the best clam chowder on the coast, but shelter from the smoke.
Numerous wildfires are burning in Southern Oregon, creating dense, orange smoke that officials have deemed “unhealthy” in Cave Junction, Grants Pass, Medford and other areas — and “hazardous” in Selma, 10 miles from where the Klondike Fire burns.
That fire reached into Curry County last week and is burning primarily on its northeast flank. Firefighters are trying to hold a line on the west side, as well, to keep it from creeping closer to Agness, about 15 air-miles away.
Low winds have kept the fires from blowing up, but that has also resulted in smoke settling in the valleys, making breathing difficult for everyone.
No room at the inns
Vicky DeMott, an employee at the visitor’s center, said she was amazed how many people were looking for a hotel room, a campsite — anything — and shocked nothing was available.
Normally, the visitor’s center receives about 200 people a day during the high summer season, she said, and they’ve been getting between 280 and 300 people through the doors for the past several days. She estimated about 80 percent of them were looking for shelter.
“They were all coming in, talking about their experiences, how really bad the smoke was, the fire tornados, the erratic fire — they couldn’t describe how catastrophic the fires were,” she said. “But they were looking for a place to stay, and there was nothing. Not in Brookings, not in Gold Beach, not in Coos Bay.”
The fire refugees were coming in from as far away as the Carr Fire burning on the outskirts of Redding, California, and that has forced the evacuation of more than 36,000 people. Others are coming from Medford, Ashland, Cave Junction, all escaping the triple-digit heat and the dense, acrid smoke, she said.
She said they tried to find places for some to camp, but all the campgrounds were full, as well.
“We were on the phone and calling hotels, going through Expedia, trying to find places for these people, DeMott said. “From Crescent City to Coos Bay, nothing.”
Finally, at 4 p.m., they found a room for a family from Texas. But it was in Eugene, a five-hour drive from Brookings.
“We told them, ‘You can’t dawdle,’” she said with a chuckle. “‘Just keep going straight.’”
She even offered her home to some.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I told a couple of families that if they got up the road and couldn’t find anything, to call me and they could stay at my house. That’s what people do (for others) when they have fires.”
Hotel operators here experienced the same influx over the weekend.
“Absolutely,” said Samantha Branion of Portside Suites in Harbor, when asked if they’d seen an uptick in people looking for lodging. “We noticed a lot more from Cave Junction, Grants Pass, Central Point. We get a lot of people who come in the summer anyway, but a lot of people were trying to get away from the smoke.”
Many, she said, only intended to stay two to three nights to get a reprieve in the fresh ocean air, but others were turned away.
The rooms are full.
Amanda Garcia of the Brookings Inn said their accommodations are filled every day with fire refugees. And if a room is vacant, it is immediately filled.
“We’re not the only one,” she said. “Pacific Sunset Inn, Blue Coast Inn, Spindrift — they all fill up and it’s all from people getting away from the fire. They say their eyes burn, their lungs feel like they’re on fire, it’s too hot over there. It’s bad.”
The Best Western Beachfront Inn in Harbor has been booked since the beginning of June — well before the wildfires were even sparked. A woman there, who declined to give her name, said they, too, have had “a lot of people” calling seeking a room to escape the high heat and smoke in the valley.
Amber Ard of The Westward Inn in Brookings concurred.
Like other lodging facilities in the area, they were booked for the entire weekend anyway.
“But we’re getting calls daily,” she said. “Multiple calls, people wanting to get their kids out of the smoke. It sucks because we’re booked and can’t help them.”
She said she called every hotel in town Friday, and all were booked.
“One couple asked us to look up camping spots, so I sent them to Harris Beach,” she said. “They’re full. I also gave them the number to Loeb Park upriver. I hope they found somewhere. It’s more than sad, it’s devastating.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .