Upper McKenzie Fire Chief On Evacuations: 'Everybody Needed To Get Out'

Sep 16, 2020

The Holiday Farm fire has burned nearly 167-thousand acres since Labor Day. Officials say it was initially reported as a grass fire of less than a tenth of an acre. Then high winds pushed the burn across Scenic Highway 126, where it grew out of control. The Upper McKenzie Fire Chief had to make some serous decisions--fast.

Rural Fire Chief Christiana Rainbow Plews was called to the Holiday Farm fire when it was still a grass fire early Labor Day evening. It's fast spread prompted her to order a Level 3 "Get Out Now" evacuation up and down the McKenzie River Valley.
Credit Upper McKenzie Fire District

In her thirty years of firefighting, Chief Rainbow Plews has seen her share of big blazes. But she said this one was unique given its speed.

“You know it was clearly getting bigger by the minute, faster than we could drive. I called for Level 3 evacuations,” said Plews. “I did a few Level 2 initially and then pretty much just decided everybody needed to get out. I think everybody sort of thought I’d lost my mind.”

The Chief’s first evacuation order extended more than 20 miles down river. She said it was a precautionary move-- because no one thought the fire would get that far. But it did.

In the aftermath, many residents have called Chief Rainbow a hero. She said, “I have had so many people that have come to me or have message me and said ‘you literally saved our lives. We had no idea this fire was happening.’”

Hundreds of structures, including Plew’s own family homes, were lost in the Holiday Farm fire. Officials have agreed her choice to evacuate widely prevented catastrophic loss of life.  

-Production assistance from Kiger Plews.

Chief Rainbow Plews surveys the ruins of the Blue River Fire Station after it was destroyed by the Holiday Farm fire.
Credit Upper McKenzie Fire District