Doubleday fire kept Butte Falls on edge

Grand opening of the remodeled Butte Falls Library went off as scheduled despite nearby forest fire.

Grand opening of the remodeled Butte Falls Library went off as scheduled despite nearby forest fire.

Although the threat of evacuation hung over their heads, the townspeople of Butte Falls showed true grit by going ahead on September 18 with the grand opening of the 15th and last library to be remodeled or rebuilt as a result of the 2000 bond issue. The 900-acre Doubleday Fire burned a little over a mile away and smoke billowed from the mountain but about 35 people still came to celebrate what is an important service to a rural community.

As library officials and others, including Jackson County Commissioner C. W. Smith, gave brief remarks, the sound of helicopters carrying buckets of water occasionally drowned out the speaker’s voices. But nary an eyelash blinked because all attention was focused on the positive messages the speakers shared.

Earlier in the day the scenario was different. Residents had gathered at the town park for a briefing given by Fire Prevention Officer Brian Ballou from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). At that time, a verbal, Level One Emergency Notice was in effect. That level warned residents to prepare for the moving of persons with special needs, mobile property and possibly livestock because hazards from the approaching fire or fires were severe.

Residents milled around sharing their feelings. Most were outwardly calm, one man even nonchalant. Resident John Morgan said, “I won’t worry until the fire is over the ridge.” Cory Hamann, owner of the Sugar Pine Café could see flames the night before and had been worried she would lose both her house and her business. But this morning she was feeling better. The night before had been harrowing when ashes and burnt fir needles rained down on cars, said another resident.

A grandmother, Susan St. George, who had her grandchild with her, discussed what she should pack in case of evacuation. “I’m stressing,” she confided. She had packed her marriage and birth certificates. But her father had died four years ago and she debated whether she should take his old battered cowboy hat and spurs. Another prized possession was her Grandmother’s 1920 spelling book. “It’s kind of scary,” she added.

St. George asked how soon they would know about evacuation. Spokesperson Ballou said if there was evacuation, notice could be real quick, perhaps two hours or maybe there would be 24-hour notice. There was no way to know. At that point the fire was a long way from being controlled, he said truthfully. With the large amounts of “blow down” from last winter’s fierce wind storm, there was heavy fuel burning. And at that point the wind was pushing the fire towards town. Sheriff’s deputies patrolled the town ready to assist in the case of evacuation.

School buses were on standby, fueled up and ready to take children to the valley. Two School District 9 buses, driven by Pattie Dempsey and Marianne Goodson, were parked waiting.  Dempsey said the quality of air was also of concern, not just fire. At 1:00 p.m. with the sky fairly clear, the two bus drivers headed back to Eagle Point driving empty buses.

Dempsey is also a Lake Creek firefighter. As a first responder she had been one of the first on the scene two nights previously when the fire at that time had only burned three-acres.

Five helicopters, six bulldozers and five air tankers were available to fight the fire that actually was a series of burning spots. Ballou described the fire as a “scattering of shotgun blasts fires.” The Butte Falls all Volunteer Fire Department personnel were on hand at the fire station. Firefighters went in and out. As some left for the fire, others looking weary came back to the station. Fire Captain Jeff Gorman, with a strained expression on his face, went back and forth between the fire station and city hall, always willing to talk to anyone who wanted information.

At about 3:10 p.m. Gorman said a spot of fire had crossed the fire line but a bulldozer was on the scene. At that time, the Level One notice, no longer verbal but in print, was distributed to each house in town. It was still just an advisory. Fortunately, the wind calmed and the fire settled down somewhat. It was a long, wearying day but residents were taking it in stride.

Meanwhile, library officials who did not want to disappoint the town’s residents rolled into Butte Falls. They were not sure what they would find but they came anyway, to celebrate with citizens from as far as Medford and as close as Shady Cove. Anne Guevara, Head of Branches in Jackson County Library Services, was Master of Ceremony at the formalities.

Speakers included Commissioner Smith who said he had just gotten back from Salem with good news. A bill was moving through the  U.S. senate that would give financing to forest counties. The bill was connected to an emergency response bill. He cautioned it was not a done deal but it looked hopeful. Smith told those present,”This community epitomizes the word “community” and he offered his congratulations to Butte Falls. A tense Butte Falls Mayor, Ron Ormond, said he would try to find funding for more library hours.

Others who spoke were Kathleen Davis, Library Advisory Committee, Denise Galarraga, Library Director, Susan Gomes, Branch Manager and Anne Billeter from the Storytelling Guild of Jackson County who presented a long, green dragon to the library and the children.

The remodeled building was not expanded but renovated with a new roof, thermal windows, airy paint and other amenities. Resident Joyce Hailicka reminisced about October 11, 1990 when the actual library building arrived in town on the back of a truck. It had been Casey’s Depot Restaurant in Medford before the restaurant failed. Hailicka is positive of the date because her 18-year-old daughter Ayn-Marie was born that very day.

On this day of the grand opening, not only adults were present but also youth who admired the remodel. An eight-year-old boy, Robby Bray, said “I love it.” His friends agreed the library is “awesome.”

September 18 in Butte Falls – a day to be remembered as one of fear and yet surprisingly of festivity.

Library hours are Tuesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Thursdays, 1 to 5:00 p.m. The library is at 626 Fir Avenue. For more information call 865-3511.
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent

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