Tag: decisions

Cameron Peak, East Troublesome fires evacuees face hard decisions

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By the time Becky Jensen returned to her home in Poudre Canyon in late October, she hadn’t slept in her bed for 12 weeks.

Back in August, Jensen returned from celebrating her 50th birthday with a two-week hike in the San Juan Mountains as the Cameron Peak Fire ran east down Colorado Highway 14, forcing widespread evacuations that included her cabin a mile west of Rustic.

For the next 2½ months, Jensen camped out in her mother’s basement in Fort Collins with two cats and a dog, even as mandatory evacuations turned to voluntary. 

“I have asthma and pets. It was smart to gather everything together and head to Fort Collins and stay with my mom,” Jensen said as she prepared to return home after evacuations were lifted for the Colorado 14 corridor.

It’s been a long slog, but Jensen considers herself lucky. Her house is still standing and she was able to take refuge with family. Not everyone had that option.

Unlike the 2012 High Park Fire, when the American Red Cross opened a large evacuation center at The Ranch in Loveland, COVID-19 concerns prompted the agency to pay for hotel rooms for evacuees unable to find shelter with family or friends. 

Stories: Newlyweds look for light in the darkness after fire destroys their home

The Red Cross reported to Larimer County leaders that it has paid for more than 27,000 hotel nights. A family or single person staying in a hotel room for one night counts as one hotel night.

At the peak of Cameron Peak Fire evacuations, the Red Cross housed 1,300 evacuees in 570 rooms spread across 16 hotels and a KOA campground.

That number soared Oct. 22 when Estes Park residents fled the approaching East Troublesome Fire. Through Tuesday, 2,273 evacuees were housed in 1,043 rooms across more than 35 area hotels and two KOAs.

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Hilary and Josh Embrey’s home in Buckskin Heights in Masonville, Colorado was destroyed in the Cameron Peak Fire.

Fort Collins Coloradoan

While the loss of homes is still being assessed, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office has reported more than 442 structures have been destroyed within the county.

Of those damaged or destroyed, 209 are homes —  26 are primary residences. An additional 208 are outbuildings and 17 were designated as businesses that were part of the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes.

Those who lost their homes will be forced to find more permanent housing over the coming days and weeks while they decide what comes next.

Their decisions — depending on the final structure loss from the fires — could both tighten an already stressed housing market and help a hotel industry decimated by COVID-19.

Want to help: Here’s how to help those impacted by the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires

COVID-19 clears hotel space for fire evacuees

In normal years, hotels in Fort Collins and Loveland would have been hard pressed to accommodate so many evacuees as

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Outdoor recreation in Oregon is effectively closed, here’s how the decisions were made

The first day of spring was beautiful in Oregon. Blue skies and warm sun greeted the state on March 19, tempting people out to beaches and hiking trails, snowy mountains and waterfall viewpoints.

A week later, virtually all outdoor recreation in Oregon had closed, including every national forest, all state parks, most national parks and a growing number of local parks across the state as officials responded to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a population that just couldn’t stay away from nature.

The closures coincided with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order banning all nonessential travel outside the home until further notice. The order also shut down playgrounds and closed all public and private campgrounds in the state.

The sudden wave of closures left many Oregonians reeling, wondering if there was some way to keep our cherished outdoor spaces open while maintaining public health. How and why were these severe decisions made?

READ MORE: Oregon trails and parks that have closed to the public

Oswald West

A hiker rests at the top of Cape Falcon, part of Oswald West State Park on the northern Oregon coast.Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

OREGON STATE PARKS

As the coronavirus began to spread across the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department had a plan in place: advise all park visitors to maintain social distance, while beginning an orderly two-week shutdown of state park campgrounds.

At the time, public health officials were still recommending people go out hiking as a way to relax and maintain physical health. As long as people maintained the recommended six feet of social distance, there wouldn’t be a problem, they said.

But as the spring equinox sun carried into the first weekend of Oregon schools’ spring break, it quickly became clear that social distancing in parks was going to be a tall order.

“You always hold out hope that people will listen when you say, ‘don’t clump up,’” state parks spokesman Chris Havel said. “That didn’t happen.”

Instead people flooded state parks. Day-use areas and campgrounds were crowded. It was true in the Willamette Valley and way out in the high desert, but especially on the Oregon coast.

Throngs of visitors at beaches and in small towns alarmed local residents. Officials in towns up and down the coast told visitors to leave, closing local campgrounds, shutting down hotels and short-term lodging, and giving tourists 24 hours to go home.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not just an opportunity for a traveling vacation,” Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber said in a video message. “It’s a threat to our very lives.”

That development shook up the state parks department’s plans, Havel said. Officials suddenly saw the urgency of the moment. On Sunday afternoon, March 22, the department closed all campgrounds and day-use sites immediately, shutting down the entire state park system.

“This is not going the way we expected, and the local communities made a very good point,” Havel said of the department’s thinking that weekend. “The timelines here aren’t being dictated by our plans.”

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