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Canyonville resident describes evacuating home from Milepost 97 Fire

After a final look through her house before evacuating Thursday night, Jayonna Hunnell paused briefly to make sure she packed all her irreplaceable possessions.

She heard the sound of Douglas Fir trees crackling as the Milepost 97 Fire headed toward her property.

“That sound just piercing up your spine,” Hunnell said. “Then the cops coming in saying, ‘You guys, you gotta go.’ As soon as I walked outside, I could just see the high flames in our backyard, right there.”

The fire began about one mile southeast of Canyonville Wednesday night, and by the time Hunnell evacuated the next day, it had grown to 750 acres. By Friday afternoon, the fire surged to 6,000 acres, burning through private industrial timberlands, Oregon and California Railroad Revested Lands and lands held by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians.

It’s the largest wildfire in Douglas County so far this season.

Fire suppression efforts were hindered by steep, rocky terrain, minimal road access, high temperatures and low humidity. Trees damaged by a fire in the 1980s made firefighting dangerous as trees were prone to falling, said Kyle Reed, a spokesman for the Douglas Forest Protective Association.

On Friday, seven helicopters, two large air tankers and two single-engine air tankers supported more than 200 firefighters on the ground. Additional aviation resources and ground resources in the form of hand crews, engines, and heavy equipment have been ordered and are en route to the incident, Reed said.

An incident management team with the Oregon Department of Forestry took command of the fire at 6 p.m. Friday. Crews with the DFPA, Tri City Rural Fire Department, Riddle Rural Fire Department and Myrtle Creek Rural Fire Department led efforts before the command change.

On Friday, as far as Hunnell knew, the flames had not consumed her house, the other two houses on the property belonging to her brother-in-law and parents-in-law, nor her neighbor’s house. Hunnell’s family and their neighbor were the only ones forced to evacuate.

Later Friday night, Level 1 evacuation notices were issued for neighborhoods on the west side of Interstate 5 between milepost 83 and milepost 88.

Crews covered the houses with heat-repelling structure wraps, Hunnell said, but firefighters told her they couldn’t guarantee the houses would be saved.

Two wildfires in previous years came within several miles of the property, she said. The fires prompted Hunnell’s family to take precautions, keeping essential documents, passports and other items in one place.

“Third time’s the charm,” Hunnell said. “When we saw this one right in our backyard, we were prepared.”

Hunnell went home from work early on Thursday to pack for a possible evacuation before the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office issued the Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation notice for the property. Within a few hours, the Sheriff’s Office issued a Level 3 “Go” notice and law enforcement was there telling her and her family to leave.

Hunnell said she was overwhelmed by the support of about a dozen friends that came to help move her cows and pack for the evacuation.

“It was just awesome,” Hunnell said. “We had a couple of couples that didn’t hear from us because we were trying to keep our phones clear for the emergency, so they just showed up and started helping.”

As she started driving away from the house on a one-way road, fire crews were starting to come in, and the anxiety of the situation set in, she said.

“I’m in my pickup by myself, full of stuff, and I’m bawling my eyes out going down that driveway and I remember seeing some of my friends’ faces, who were fighting the fire getting ready to go in there, and they’re smiling, giving me that look like, ‘It’ll be OK, we’ve got this,’” Hunnell said. “It just gave me more comfort.”

She said firefighters were jumping out of their engines, making fire lines and sawing down trees to protect the houses. “Those crews are unbelievable,” she said.

Hunnell’s family went to stay at her uncle-in-law’s house, which is also Canyonville. After a restless night, wondering if she would be forced to evacuate again, she tried to remain optimistic on Friday.

“A lot of it is just things,” Hunnell said about the possibility of property getting damaged. “What’s important is family and friends.”

But the fire still consumed something sentimentally important.

Hunnell and her husband were married on the property in June. Before the wedding, she and her friends built a permanent platform at the house that served as the dance floor, and her uncle-in-law handmade a bar.

“The back pasture where we got married, which is right up by the house, it’s just gone,” she said.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office couldn’t say when Hunnell and her family could return to the property.

But on Friday morning, the Hunnells still had a sense of humor.

“I kind of wish it had a cooler name than Milepost 97 Fire,” Hunnell said. “This morning we were trying to think of better names.”

WWII veteran says secret to living to 100 is take one day at a time

WINSTON — Three days after his 100th birthday party, World War II veteran Roy Vanderhoff drove to Wellspring Bible Fellowship in Roseburg to inspect and repair electronics for the church’s yard sale.

It’s the sort of thing Vanderhoff loves to do. In his spare time, he can often be found tinkering with his electric trains or operating a ham radio.

The Lord, Vanderhoff said, has been good to him. At this point in his life, he has trouble deciding which of his many experiences were the best ones.

“That is hard to tell. There’s been a lot of them,” he said.

He remembers them clearly.

On Wednesday, he cuddled a little white terrier called Casey as he spoke about his military experience, his family and his work.

After World War II broke out, Vanderhoff tried to enlist in the Navy, but they rejected him for wearing glasses. He didn’t volunteer for the Army, though. He waited for them to call him.

And call him they did. He was drafted into the Army Medical Corps in January 1942 and attached to the 12th Air Force.

After his training was completed, he was shipped to North Africa. On his way to that deployment, he recalled the train from San Bernadino traveled 90 mph across the Great Plains, stopping in Kansas City for a half hour of calisthenics and arriving in Fort Dix, New Jersey four hours late. Within a half hour of arriving at Fort Dix, he was on a plane to Casablanca, where he would be stationed for a year and a half.

In all, he would spend three years, eight months and four days in the service without any furlough.

He never served in combat, but while stationed in Casablanca and in Italy he helped salvage gliders, repair radios and maintain planes that could carry gasoline to the troops on the front lines.

“It’s a different life. It’s hard to describe. You’re under supervision of people up above that tell you what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it,” he said. “I wouldn’t take a lot for the experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”

His unit received a Meritorious Service Award, which his family had framed for his birthday.

Though he was trained as an X-ray technician, that’s a skill he never got to use during the war. Once he was overseas his designation was changed to sanitation technician, he said.

“I had to see to it we had a latrine trench to use for a bathroom. I didn’t have to dig ’em, I had to see that they were dug,” he said.

He had grown up in Iowa and Minnesota. Four months after he returned home from the war, he married Donna Kruger, a girl with whom he had ridden the school bus for years.

What he liked about her, he summed up in one word: “Everything.”

It was a marriage that would last almost 68 years, until her death in 2013, and produce five children, four of whom are still living.

Daughters Rosie Dean and Pam Bingel said they most remember their dad teaching them to swim, fixing things and coming home from the machine shop where he worked with little pieces of metal in his shoes.

“He was always there for us, always level headed, always tried to help us. He’s just a good guy,” Bingel said.

Vanderhoff obtained his GED and attended college in Iowa, after which he taught math and science to seventh and eighth graders for five years. But he said he didn’t like the job because the kids were ornery and wouldn’t pay attention in class.

So he quit that profession and started working in a machine shop instead.

He moved to California in 1963, where he worked in a machine shop building airplane parts. In 1970 he was laid off from that job and moved to Douglas County. He helped repair logging equipment in Camas Valley and built logging yarders at a now-defunct company called EDCO in Glide.

“It was alright. It’s like anything else. It has its ups and downs,” he said. “All of it was better than the teaching.”

He thought about becoming a pilot when he was younger but said he scrapped that plan after he and his wife attended an air show in which a pilot crashed his plane and died. He’s remained interested in flying though. Last year, he received a ride in a biplane thanks to Ageless Aviation Dreams, a program that obtains rides for veterans.

Vanderhoff has been retired now for almost 40 years. He has faced some health challenges, surviving four heart attacks and lymphoma. He gets around well, though he leans on a walker to aid his balance.

“If I let go, I just go plunk, and I’ve got the scars to prove it,” he said.

When asked what his secret is to thriving a century after his birth, Vanderhoff said, “Take life as it comes one day at a time. A lot of people have asked me that, and that’s my pat answer.”