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Neighbors unite when devastation strikes

“When you’re down and out

When you’re on the street

When evening falls so hard

I will comfort you

I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes

And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down.”

— “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel

Devastation came on the wind, hurtling through the south end of the valley so fast it left us stunned. In its wake lay a swath of former homes and businesses appearing through the smoke like gray skeletons. People connected to those remains may not yet know. I struggle with us all to grasp the reality and magnitude of loss.

This is an open letter to all who call the magnificent and devastated Rogue River valley home. No matter our address, we have all felt the heat from the flames. If a virus, invisible to the naked eye, has the power to divide us, perhaps a fire, dancing and kicking at our doorsteps, will help unite us.

We’ve seen anxiety, lackluster weariness and loss in the faces of our neighbors and first responders. We recognize and feel with them because their pain is mirrored in us.

Like everyone in hard-hit Talent, Phoenix and too many areas around us, my friend, Lane, was evacuated from his home at a moment’s notice. Flames burned alongside the railroad tracks just a few yards away as he fled the unknowable outcome. Yesterday we learned his home was spared, but so many were not.

Viewing photos and videos of the wreckage, it was like a vengeful dragon had waded in, breathing pent-up bolts of metal-melting fire, first on this string of buildings, then another. One side of the street stands as witness to the destruction of its neighbor. One person stands as witness to their neighbor and lends a hand. Our community is known for its practical, gut-level compassion any time crises arise. Churches, shelters, friends and strangers open their doors and wallets to the displaced. And this time is no different. The Jackson County Expo has received such an outpouring of donations, they can no longer handle more.

On the opposite end of the valley near me, the Obenchain dragon roared to life. Late Tuesday night, when I could barely process all that was happening, I didn’t know if Eagle Point would be the next to get the call. With a shift of wind, we may yet. It seemed too incredible that this could be happening all over the valley. Never in my 37 years here. In a semi-desperate stab to plan for relocation, I texted my friend Denise to see if she could possibly put Oliver and me up should the situation arise. Her swift reply, “Of course!” brought tears to my eyes.

Businesses are making their parking lots available for folks needing a place to park their rigs. People are coming together to move livestock out of harm’s way. Social media is being used for good by sharing knowledge of fire information and lost pets. And the firefighters fight on.

Lane and his two cats are currently taking up residence in my guest room. This morning I talked with Martin, my maintenance helper. He’d been evacuated three times. A lot of us were wondering where “safe” was exactly.

Yesterday we drove to Eagle Point Middle School to witness the ongoing Obenchain beast. Hilltops crawling with orange looked too close. I’d already repeated the drill of a few weeks ago by throwing some essentials in the car, this time with a few additions. Lane and I watched as tankers flew, dropping buckets that looked like thimbles-full of water on thirsty, withering ground.

We’ll navigate this time as a community and be stronger for it. Meanwhile, allow time for rest and to process — to grieve. This is a big deal. Don’t believe you’re weak for crying — men and women. This one was hard. The lost will be refined. Love was already in play, and it is unbeatable.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer with hope. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.