A Paradise, California, family with religious and familial ties to Douglas County has been living at a Roseburg motel for much of November after the Camp Fire forced them to flee their homes on Nov. 8.
The death toll from the Camp Fire reached 88 on Monday, with more than 203 still considered missing. The fire, which reached full containment Sunday morning, destroyed more than 13,000 homes.
Stephen Joslin and Vickie Joslin and their two adult daughters, Tamara Joslin and Sara Joslin, have been living at the Holiday Inn Express in Roseburg — along with two young granddaughters, Kate Joslin and Nora Joslin. The Joslins, who are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, said it was nothing short of a miracle that they are still alive.
There was very little time to get out after an emergency call from county officials. They can’t be sure, they said, but it seemed like the back of their homes were already on fire. They had time to grab their already prepared “go bags” and minimal valuables.
The family members said the only clothes they brought were the ones they were wearing.
On their way out, the route out of town was packed with vehicles — with fire closing in on them.
Eight-year-old Kate Joslin said she overheard frantic conversations between family members and immediately began worrying about her grandma, Vickie Joslin.
“I thought Grandma was going to die; it was stressful,” Kate said. “The fire was on both sides of us, and I started crying, because I was scared and I didn’t want her to die. Because she’s, like, the best grandma I’ve ever had.”
It was a scary trip down the road, with traffic moving at a very slow pace and flames all around them. Vickie Joslin said her husband, Stephen Joslin, has Parkinson’s disease and doesn’t drive, but that day he got in the driver’s seat and began driving the family through low visibility in the middle of flames.
It was one of the miracles that helped them survive the ordeal, she said.
“He sat in the driver’s seat, and I didn’t even question it, even though he just doesn’t drive anymore. But he got us out of there, and there were a couple of times I was screaming at him, but with prayer, I calmed down. And it was like Jehovah God was guiding us out of there,” Vickie Joslin said. “He saved our lives, because I would have had him go a way that would have gotten us killed, surely.”
Sara Joslin went a different direction in her vehicle and got into trouble. She didn’t think she was going to get out. She said nobody was going to the left, and she was directed to the right. That’s where the fire was blowing across the road.
“I started taking pictures because I was stuck. I took a picture of myself to say bye, basically thinking it would be the last picture of me, because I didn’t think I would make it,” she said. “I prayed that God would remember me and he would help my family to overcome what loss had happened.”
She found herself next to a machine shop with oils, gases and propane tanks, and she knew immediately it was going to explode.
“Just then, the traffic started moving and just about the time I was clear, it was explosion after explosion after explosion,” Sara Joslin said.
The family found out that it had lost both homes in the devastating blaze, and three Kingdom Halls also burned up in the fire.
All family members made it safely to Chico, which typically is a 20-minute drive from Paradise.
“But that day, it was 2½ to 4 hours, depending on when you left,” Tamara Joslin said. “It was slow going.”
Vickie Joslin said their faith played a big part in preparing them for an emergency.
They are constantly reminded to keep go bags ready and stay prepared for an emergency.
They were told when they get an evacuation notice, they needed to leave immediately.
“You don’t wait; you go at the very first sign, and that saved our lives,” Vickie Joslin said.
Even though all the family members are safe in Roseburg, they notice some of the effects on the kids they are trying to work through.
“They’re feeling it. They’re definitely more emotional, they have therapists at home, and it’s hard because we don’t have that kind of thing here yet,” Vickie Joslin said.
The Joslins say there are positives in everything, and they have relatives in Douglas County who have been able to spend some time with. So, in spite of the circumstances, they say they’ve had a good experience in Roseburg.
“I have an aunt and uncle up here and a cousin, and part of it is we don’t get to see my aunt very often, so we thought, ‘If we have to get far away, we might as well enjoy the time with her,’” Tamara Joslin said.
“I’ve enjoyed this time in Roseburg. A lot of people have been taking pretty good care of us,” Stephen Joslin said. “And I won’t have to clean my garage, now.”
The Joslins are just one of the several families from the Paradise area that have come to Douglas County to stay until housing becomes available again.
Steve Frack, a veterinarian at the For the Love of Paws clinic in downtown Roseburg and a member of the Evening Rotary Club, had an employee with connections to the Joslins and collected $260 in cash donations from the club to help the family.
The clinic is also taking donations for all victims of the fire.
One big need is for children’s clothes, teddy bears and other kids items. For those who want to donate, items may be dropped off at the clinic at 725 SE Mosher Ave. in Roseburg, or call 541-677-6070 for information.
Roseburg High School students will no longer be able to apply for the Future First Citizen scholarship because the sponsors, including Umpqua Bank, CHI Mercy Health and a private individual decided to “redirect their investments.”
The Future First Citizen scholarship was created about 20 years ago by companies and individuals who wanted to support local high school students and see more of them get college educations.
Although the amount and number of awards changes from year-to-year, it is the largest single local award for Roseburg High School, according to Jim Early, career center director for Roseburg High School.
A few students asked him about the award’s status before Thanksgiving weekend.
“It’s significant,” Early said. “You can see why parents made note of it and said, ‘Hey, pay attention for when this comes out.’”
Early let students know in his weekly scholarship bulletin email that the citizen award would not be available this year.
“The sponsors of the award have decided to place their resources elsewhere in the community,” Early said in an email to students.
Early said sponsors decided two years ago to expand the number of students who would receive awards and gave away more money overall, but less to individual students.
“It’s an award that students and parents are aware of,” Early said. “One of the things they’ve always framed the award is, they want to recognize kids who are doing the right thing. These are top kids that apply for and receive the award.”
Umpqua Bank Executive Vice President Neal Brown is the spokesman for the sponsors. He was unavailable for comment.
The scholarship honored students for their overall contributions to the community. Scholarship winners have been traditionally announced at the First Citizens banquet sponsored by the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is not a sponsor of the scholarship.
“It has been the chamber’s absolute honor to provide a platform for the recognition of so many outstanding Roseburg High School seniors,” Chamber President Debbie Fromdahl said. “And, of course, to thank the participating companies and individuals for creating the scholarship program and for their most significant financial contributions over the years.”
An online petition asking the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center to reinstate surgeon and retired Air Force Col. Scott Russi had garnered more than 2,500 signatures as of Monday. The petition, on the Change.org website, is accompanied by a 14-minute documentary that includes footage from his time as an Air Force colonel deployed to a military hospital in Afghanistan and interviews with patients and coworkers.
Russi was fired in 2017, shortly after he began working as a surgeon at the Roseburg VA’s Eugene clinic. He alleges he was retaliated against because he was a whistle-blower reporting the VA was providing substandard care. The VA asserted there were problems with four cases Russi handled. Russi’s case gained publicity after U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio testified about him during a push for whistle-blower protection legislation.
Documentary filmmaker Robert Ham told The News-Review on Monday he was shocked to find out what had happened to Russi. Ham was a combat videographer deployed with the Army’s 4th Brigade 25th Infantry Division out of Alaska when he first met Russi at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan. The year was 2009, and America was ramping up its military efforts in Afghanistan.
Ham sometimes went out on military expeditions, but when he was around the base, he often found good stories to video at the combat hospital there, where Russi was a surgeon. Some of the footage he took of Russi back then appears in the new documentary, which is called “Stop the Line” — an ironic reference to a VA program purporting to encourage whistle-blowers to report safety issues.
“War is complicated, and not all of us are heroes, but Scott is a hero,” Ham said. “I literally saw him do heroic stuff, bringing people back to life.”
Ham learned about Russi’s VA firing while working on a different video, for which he contacted another doctor who had been with them in Afghanistan. So he borrowed money from an uncle and drove from Los Angeles to Oregon to conduct some interviews. Some VA nurses said they were afraid to talk with him on camera about what happened to Russi. Others expressed a lot of pain.
“It really just broke my heart,” Ham said.
On a second trip, he brought in another producer, Marine veteran Mike Dowling, who had been a co-producer and military advisor on the Netflix show Medal of Honor. They did some more interviews, edited the footage and posted the video about a month ago, first on YouTube and then on the Change.org campaign site.
Ham hopes more people will look at the video and sign the petition. He hopes not only to help Russi get his job back, but also to raise awareness about the systemic problems he said lead the VA to push out good doctors.
“Ultimately I think we need to have a national conversation about the VA in a very serious way, more than just it’s troubled or there’s scandal here and there. This is a national problem, and we need a national solution,” he said.
Russi said he’d go back to the VA in a heartbeat, but only if things improved there.
He’s particularly concerned that many VA doctors are not board certified, which he said means they do not meet the standard to be hired in private practice. That’s one of the issues he raised as a VA whistle-blower, and it’s raised in “Stop the Line.”
He believes part of the reason he was fired was he was seen as a threat to the VA’s leadership team. While he worked there, he said, half that team — including the surgery chief who pushed him out — were not board certified.
Russi said unless the VA is able to hire and retain board certified doctors, it would be better to limit its practice to primary and mental health care, and to ensure veterans receive specialty care from better qualified doctors outside the VA.
“Hopefully the video will get some traction nationally and I get a voice to talk about what I think is important — substantial changes that need to be made in the VA to ensure that our veterans get good health care,” he said.
Several of the leaders Russi mentioned later lost their posts, following a report from VA Office of the Medical Inspector. Interim Roseburg VA Director Dave Whitmer pointed out that the same office reviewed Russi’s case and supported the decision to fire him.
“Dr. Russi is free to express his First Amendment rights and petition the government regarding this matter. However, this will not change the fact the Office of the Medical Inspector and the Office of Special Counsel both reviewed this case, including the peer review files that highlighted the clinical concerns and supported the Roseburg (VA’s) action to terminate his employment. I wish Dr. Russi luck in his future endeavors,” Whitmer said in an email.