© 2021 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Recovery Looks Different For The Bootleg Fire Victims Who Lived Far Off-Grid

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Fire crews in Oregon have mostly contained the massive Bootleg Fire, which has now scorched more than 400,000 acres and destroyed more than 150 homes. Some of those homes belonged to people who lived far off the grid. From southern Oregon, Katia Riddle reports.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: When the evacuation order came, Joy Treadway and her family stayed because the animals.

JOY TREADWAY: We raise Muscovy ducks, so we have about 50 Muscovy duck, along with about 20 miscellaneous breeds. We have about 50 guinea hens, 50 chickens, 10 geese.

RIDDLE: Also turkeys, horses, donkeys and an alpaca - not even counting the cats and dogs. Without a solid plan to get this whole menagerie out, she, her husband and their two kids watched and panicked as a wall of fire approached their property.

TREADWAY: And that's probably the closest it got. So about 300, 400 feet away. And you could feel the heat. I mean, it was intense.

RIDDLE: Miraculously, the fire dodged them.

TREADWAY: And then it just came around us, behind the property and came up next to us on the other side of the property.

RIDDLE: Treadway and hundreds of other people live off-grid in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It's a way of life here on plots of land in the forest, unconnected to the power or water supply. Many lost everything in the fire.

GAGE CLARKE: This was my 20-foot shop that had all my tools and it.

RIDDLE: Gage Clarke, who works as a contractor, has been off-grid for six years. Piles of contorted metal and blackened wood now sit where he built a half-dozen structures on this property with his own hands.

CLARKE: And then that shop next to it was a 28-foot shop with my sawmill.

RIDDLE: Clarke had no insurance. He's facing financial ruin.

CLARKE: I was going to try to retire early, but I don't think that's going to happen now.

RIDDLE: A deep pride around the independence of this life is a hallmark of the off-grid community.

CLARKE: I don't need any help from anybody. I did it all myself. I'll do it all myself again.

RIDDLE: Once you experience the freedom of being off-grid, says Clarke, it's hard to go back.

CLARKE: I mean, like, you get your silence. You get your space away from people. You get to go home and - I mean, and you ought to see the stars at night. I mean, you have never seen stars at night like you've seen up here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We should be able to give her a whole package of diapers. We've got a lot of diapers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, yeah.

RIDDLE: A few dozen miles from where Clarke's home burned, Leda Hunter and a passel of volunteers are organizing donations for fire victims.

LEDA HUNTER: I had no idea there were so many people out there.

RIDDLE: Hunter has lived here in Bly, a town of just over 400 people, all her life. But it's taken this crisis for her to meet these off-grid neighbors. She hands out propane, board games, pasta, dog food.

HUNTER: Most of these folks I've never seen before.

TREADWAY: I just went to try and get a tank so I could take water up to the animals.

RIDDLE: One of the people here is Joy Treadway, looking for water for all those birds. She runs into her neighbor. He's also looking for water. It's a constant quest, especially in the aftermath of the fire.

TREADWAY: So where are you getting water from now? 'Cause the gas station just cut us off.

TERRY MILLER: They did?

TREADWAY: Yeah, can't get water at the gas station anymore.

MILLER: You're kidding. I was heading there.

RIDDLE: At 78, Terry Miller is one of the old-timers in this community. He's been off-gridding for 22 years. He and his wife hightailed it out of the fire just before it reached their property. Rebuilding somewhere else, he says, is out of the question.

MILLER: Hell no, absolutely not. We lost everything, but it's OK. It's going to be all fine.

RIDDLE: Miller says part of the beauty of living off-grid is that he doesn't need much - some 12-volt batteries, a kerosene lamp, a makeshift shelter, and he's home.

For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in southern Oregon.

(SOUNDBITE OF VALLIS ALPS' "RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.