Virginia Torrey was tired, scared and just plain frazzled. Not to mention running out of money.
An employee of the Idleyld Trading Post who lived in the RV park nearby, she and others were evacuated from the facility as the Archie Creek Fire came barreling their way.
She ended up at the Days Inn by Wyndham in Roseburg, along with a number of other trading post employees. But when Torrey saw the bill — $289 for a double room — she lost it.
“That’s a month’s rent for me,” Torrey said. “I’m bouncing around, I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I really needed that money just to survive.”
Torrey was not the only person who thought they had been overcharged at the hotel, located at 790 NW Garden Valley Blvd.
Trinity Barney, who owns and manages the Idleyld Trading Post, said after the evacuation order came down she set out to help her staff find places to stay. Several went to the Days Inn. That’s when the problems started, Barney said.
The workers said they were quoted prices that ranged from $79 a night to nearly $300. One worker was charged $76 for the first night and then $110 the second night — a 43% increase — according to receipts from the hotel.
Barney said she called Days Inn corporate headquarters and was told she had to deal directly with the manager at the hotel. That didn’t go well, she said.
“He tells me that’s what they charge, it’s not up to them, and they have no control over the prices,” Barney said. “He said it’s supply and demand and then said, ‘Lady I don’t know what you want from me.’ Eventually, he walked away and locked himself in his office. There were a lot of frustrated people in that lobby and we were told there was nothing they could do.”
Torrey said that on Wednesday she initially went to the fairgrounds first to see if she could stay there. She was with a neighbor and her uncle, who is disabled, as well as her two service dogs. The fairgrounds only had cots and Torrey said that wouldn’t work for her situation, so she went to the Days Inn seeking a room.
Torrey said she went in the morning but was told she couldn’t check in until 3 p.m., so she left and came back. She said she got a basic room with two beds. When she went to sign in she saw the quoted price — $289 — and told the person at the desk that there must be a mistake. There was not, she said she was told.
“I’ve never paid that much money ever for a room in Roseburg,” she said. “He said, ‘That’s what the prices are now.’ He was very snippy and rude.”
The next morning when she checked out Torrey said she tried to get the front desk attendant to reduce the price, but he wouldn’t, she said.
Days Inn owner Devin Kumar said the complaints of customers being overcharged amounted to “a big misunderstanding.”
Kumar said there were several possible reasons for the complaints. Most of the blame had to do with the system that Days Inn uses to set prices, which Kumar said relied on algorithms that take into account available bed space.
“Our computer system works based on occupancy,” Kumar said. “We start the rate at $80 a day. The computer sets the algorithm and as hotel business increases, the rates increase. I have nothing to do with that.”
Kumar also said that he just this week hired a new manager for the hotel and that person is learning the proper protocols. Also, Kumar said the hotel offers four different types of rooms, including suites, and the higher rates may have been due to those more expensive rooms.
“I’m sorry about this. This is a big misunderstanding. This is not how I do business,” Kumar said. “If my employees or my manager did anything wrong, I don’t know because I’m not there. But I’m willing to help anybody. Tell them to call me and I’ll help them.”
He also said he has owned the hotel since 2013 and that he has often helped people out. For example, Kumar said he just recently gave discounted rooms to a veteran who the Roseburg VA Medical Center sent over.
“I’m trying to help the community,” he said. “I’m not in this for the money.”
Kumar also said that he and his family are in a Level 3 evacuation zone, so he has special empathy for those who have been displaced.
“My family is hurting right now too,” he said.
Barney said she is not one to stir the pot, and as a fellow business owner she knows mistakes can happen. But seeing her employees and others charged so much during a time of crisis was hard to fathom, she said.
“This is one occurrence out of many and I’ve seen so many great things people have done this week,” she said. “But it was so hard to see people taken advantage like this. It was devastating. You don’t have to have a heart, you just have to not be cruel.”
Complaints of price gouging have become more prominent as wildfires have burned more than 1 million acres across the state and displaced an estimated 40,000 people.
On Thursday, Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order to halt price gouging during the statewide wildfire emergency.
Brown declared an “abnormal market disruption” after reports showed an unusual increase in lodging rates for Oregonians forced to evacuate because of fire danger.
Brown said there are also concerns that the wildfires may lead to a shortage of other essential goods and services.
“During a statewide emergency, it is absolutely unacceptable to price gouge Oregonians who have already been hard hit and are facing devastating loss,” Brown said. “This order empowers the Attorney General and the Oregon Department of Justice to investigate these instances and take appropriate action if businesses are found to be in violation.”
Oregonians can report price gouging to the Oregon Department of Justice through their consumer protection hotline at 877-877-9392.
Sgt. Brad O’Dell with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said Friday evening that the department had not received any complaints of price gouging. He also said if someone feels they are a victim of such activity that they should call the consumer protection hotline, or visit the web site www.oregonconsumer.gov for more information.
Torrey said she felt betrayed by the $289 bill she got, especially since it happened when she was fleeing a fire and living on her last dollars.
“This is just heartbreaking,” she said. “We’re worried about our homes and ourselves and these people are taking everything I’ve got, seriously.”