Fire And Water: McKenzie Mist Bottling Facility Burns In Holiday Farm Blaze
Thousands of people have lost homes and businesses in the wake of the Holiday Farm fire on the McKenzie River. Here is one story of a working mom who built a successful artesian water bottling company in Blue River --literally from the ground up— before it was taken down in flames.
Molly Morris is President and CEO of McKenzie Mist Pure Artesian Water Company. She has offices in Eugene but the source of her product and the facility where it’s bottled is in Blue River.
Morris has always been nervous of the wind. She says when the gusts picked up on Monday, she had a bad feeling. She was in town Monday evening when her phone started “blowing up.” Morris learned her family and McKenzie River property were in trouble. The wind was whipping up a fire on the river. Her oldest son Colton sprung to action.
“Colton’s house is in Blue River. It was right next to the clinic,” said Morris. “
“He had just bought that house a year or two ago he’s been working diligently to fix it up and he’s so proud of it. And so-- he was out protecting it and defending it and hosing it down.”
Morris says her son got his information listening to a police scanner.
“Nobody dreamed that a fire that had broken out 8 miles away would have traveled that far and be on our door step in 2 hours. They issued a Code 3 alert. I said, ‘Colton when did they issue a Code 2?’ He goes, ‘They didn’t. It went right to get out now.’”
Molly and Gayle Morris started McKenzie Mist over 25 years ago. They dug a deep-source well and built the bottling facility on their Blue River property-- along with houses and a guest yurt.
Morris said son Colton and his pregnant fiancé, McKenna, drove a half mile to the property with the growing Holiday Farm fire closing in behind them. He woke his father and brother and with only the clothes on their backs, they fled to Eugene.
“All Tuesday we waited and worried,” said Morris. “There was no word. There was no way to get any word as to the fate of our piece of property. Because you can’t see it from the road. But my son said, ‘Mom, prepare yourself. It’s probably gone.’”
First, Colton heard about his house. It was destroyed. He asked a state patrolman to check his parents’ property and the McKenzie Mist facility. They received word on Wednesday that there was nothing left.
Molly Morris says she is tormented. Part of her wants to see the aftermath—and get that over with.
“But on the other hand I don’t want to see it,” she said. “Because then it’s real. Right now, it’s almost theoretical. It’s just a story.”
That story ended with the visual proof she needed but did not want to see. A picture reveals the devastating destruction of fire. The houses, the “princess palace” yurt, the bottling facility and delivery trucks emblazoned with the McKenzie Mist logo—all gone.
Morris has insurance and the process of claim making has begun. She knows her family is not alone. So many people on the McKenzie River have also lost everything to this fire.
She sees it like this: “Human beings have an amazing ability to suffer tragedy and hardships and then move forward from it. It’s an incredible human attribute.”
Now what does this strong, female, CEO of a family business do next?
“I get up in the morning, I get dressed, I come to work and I start thinking and I start planning” she said. “And I do the same thing that I’ve done for 25 years which is keep a business moving along. Keep 9 or 10 people paid and employed. Fire hasn’t changed that.”
McKenzie Mist water comes from an ancient aquifer 280 feet under the ground. Morris is adamant that they will rebuild the business and she’s moved by the thought that all that water remains safe.
"It just went deep underground again. And the fire could just pass right over it. It’s just waiting,” she said.
It’s hard to know how long it will take to start anew. Morris wants to emphasize this is a big bump in the road. But they are in it for the long haul.
“We’re not broken. But we are broken hearted,” she said. “We’ll process through this and we’ll mend. And we’ll remember where we came from.”