Lindsay Royals and her fiancé only had time to get their four cats, two dogs, and Royals’ wedding dress into the car before fleeing.
When Lindsay Royals awoke in the middle of the night to flames licking her front porch, she and her fiance had 20 minutes to collect their four cats, two dogs, and Royals’ wedding dress before the house went up in flames.
Much of the West Coast is facing historic, widespread forest fires that have burned whole towns to the ground, decreased air quality, and forced the evacuations of hundreds of thousands of people. So far, the record-shattering wildfires have burned more than 1 million acres across Oregon.
Royals’ home was in Nimrod, Oregon, a rural community outside of Eugene. She had lived in the house with her fiance, Brandon Shaw, for just over two years. Royals said they had worked together to make it their own, adding a bar, building a deck, and planning to raise some chickens.
“Thank god I didn’t have to put chickens in my car,” Royals said, laughing. “They would have destroyed it.”
Life in the area was pretty normal, Royals said, until last Monday, when the winds picked up.
“I came home from work on Monday and the winds were really bad so I got all the cats inside and we ended up eating dinner pretty early because the power was flickering, so we just went to bed kind of early,” she said.
Local officials told the community that smoke in the air was coming from a different fire, one that was further away. As of Sept. 13, there were 28 active fires burning in the state, spreading smoke over metropolitan areas, like Portland, Salem, and Eugene. Air quality in Portland currently registers as the worst in the world, according to IQAir. There have also been a total of 10 deaths related to the ongoing wildfires in the state, including a 13-year-old boy and his grandmother.
“We went to bed because we had no notifications of any evacuations, we didn’t know anything about a nearby fire and without power we couldn’t be on our phones or anything,” Royals said. “But the next thing I know my fiancé jumps up his phone is somehow getting a few calls through and our neighbor started banging on the door.”
Parts of Royals’ house and the hillside it sits near were engulfed in flames.
“I ran out to see our neighbor and we could see the flames from our front porch behind our house, and at that point, it was engulfing the entire hill behind our property. At that point, we entered into panic mode,” she said.
She herded the cats and dogs into the car, grabbed a little cash they had in the house, Shaw grabbed the dogs’ beds and some of their food, “and we were out within about 20 minutes of being notified. It was probably the most panic-driven I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Royals said.
Without their neighbors and the few phone calls that came through, Royals said they might have slept through the sirens. Police hadn’t knocked on their door and there was no formal way they could have received notice in the middle of the night to evacuate, especially with the power out.
“A man right down the road from us actually said that no one knocked on his door and he woke up at eight in the morning to his whole house on fire and he managed to barely make it out alive,” she said. “And it’s not just our area, it’s all across rural Oregon. No one really knew anything and so many people lost their homes, potentially their lives due to no notice.”
For now, Royals and Shaw are staying with friends in the area, and they will be there for the foreseeable future. The couple is making do with the help of their community, and started a GoFundMe page to help cover costs.
“We’re still waiting to hear back from the insurance company to see what they can help us with as well; everything is just taking it day-by-day at this point,” she said.