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Archie Creek Fire: A story to be told

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9-8 Star Mtn 2 - Ross Steensland.jpg

A view of the Archie Creek Fire near Star Mountain.

Inside this edition of The News-Review, you will find our annual Our Umpqua magazine. All it takes is a quick glance at the cover to see that we tried to do something different this year.

We took an in-depth look at the devastating Archie Creek Fire, just a little over a year after it swept through the area with a speed and fury that was unlike any fire to come through here in recorded history.

We hope you spend some time with the magazine and share it with family and friends. We also urge you to go to nrtoday.com to view never seen before video of the fire and its aftermath, as well as interviews with people directly affected by the fire.

Granted, some of the stories and images — especially the images — can be painful to digest. They depict loss and pain and suffering. And yes, a good deal of that loss continues today, and some of it — namely the pristine woodlands and way of life so many people had come to love — will likely not be made whole again in our lifetimes.

Yet within the magazine and online presentation you will also find stories of great courage and bravery, of resilience, of individuals moving on despite losses that would knock most of us off our feet and a community coming together to help lift everyone up.

And as destructive as it was, the Archie Creek Fire uncovered the rich history of the region, which many of us simply did not know about, or if we did perhaps took for granted.

Inside you will find a story and photos about Tilmon “Tip” Hill, an early settler who built and tended to the first hatchery in the area more than a century ago. And Mace Tipton, who proudly bore the moniker as last Chief of the Umpqua Indians. There is also a historical piece on Lavola Bakken, who lived a rough life in the woods but managed to write numerous magazine articles and books, including what is considered the seminal book on the Umpqua Valley region, “Lone Rock Free State.”

The main focus of the magazine, of course, is the fire. We sought to capture as many angles as possible, from the first responders on the scene, to heroic evacuation efforts, to the gritty and dangerous work on ground, much of it done by local industry, to try and contain the fast-moving fire.

Much of what occurred is told through first-person accounts from people who were there. Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin, for example, recalled his efforts to get people out of harm’s way, and then later a gut-wrenching town hall meeting in which residents found out whether they still had a place to go home to. More than 150 of them did not.

There are also first-person accounts from Dan Meyer, manager of the Rock Creek Hatchery for over 30 years, who lost his home there but saved hundreds of fish; logger Simon Talcott, who was off fighting another fire when he learned his new home here was gone; and Jolee Kawamura, who, with the help of specially trained dogs, was able to find her deceased husband’s ashes among the ashes of her destroyed home.

They and others had remarkable stories to share. Kawamura, for example, lost her husband to cancer in early 2020 and then her home to the Archie Creek Fire. Yet she and the other people whose stories you can read about are committed to moving on, somehow, day by day.

Kawamura still visits the Tioga Bridge, a favorite of her and her husband, to spread his ashes. Photographer Casey Conemac, who also lost his home in the fire, is producing a calendar from his photos and donating part of the sales to other fire victims. For Alison Doty, executive director of Glide Revitalization, her daily focus is helping the people she serves, and in turn the community, to rebuild.

And that is the underlying theme of this year’s Our Umpqua magazine — resiliency, a refusal to submit, a pioneer-like desire to build on the legacy that has been established.

Yes, the Archie Creek Fire was devastating almost beyond belief. Much of the area burned will take decades, if not longer, to recover. Many people’s lives, including their emotional well-being, will also take time to heal.

But if our examination of the fire revealed anything, it is that the story of this area is still evolving, still yet to unfold.

The next chapter awaits.

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