Ash fell, fears rose and the risk of flames loomed. Then it hit them — who would save Sharon's brain?
When preparatory evacuation notices hit eastern Troutdale Tuesday, Sept. 5, the volunteer staff of the Troutdale Historical Society mobilized to haul hard drives, archives and newspaper clippings out of the danger zone.
That included the voluminous set of notes compiled by local journalist Sharon Nesbit, The Outlook's award-winning columnist, who was a founding member of the group 50 years ago. And yes, all six drawers of her files really are labeled "Sharon's brains."
"For a museum, there's a lot of stuff you don't want to lose, and we don't have a (fire-supression) system, even though we've been wanting to do that for some time" explained Bettianne Goetz, the Society's current president.
"Sharon has been the core historian of the Troutdale Historical Society," she continued. "She's very important to us."
In total, six carloads of supplies were removed from the Society's archives off the Historic Columbia River Highway. And if the inferno doesn't descend further into East Multnomah County, they'll soon be schlepping them back.
Naomi Ulsted faced a different problem: How would she evacuate 120-plus students — in the middle of the night — when some pupils had no place to go.
The director of the Springdale Job Corps in Troutdale learned her technical career campus had been classified as a medium risk for evacuation orders around 2:30 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 4. Rather than roll the dice, she wrangled drivers, support staff and the entire student body in order to clear the school, which is located in a heavily-wooded area east of the Sandy River.
"(You have to) make sure you're joking with students and not getting into a panic yourself," Ulsted explained, "because the last thing you need is 122 students thinking they're about to burn up."
About 20 staff members worked through the night, providing rides home for those who live nearby, and transit via Greyhound bus or plane tickets for those who live a little bit farther afield.
Those students with no homes were provided temporary beds at a Job Corps school in Astoria.
It was an expensive endeavor, and Ulsted said classes won't resume until Monday, Sept. 11, at the earliest. This was the first evacuation in her six years at the school.
In an ironic twist, Ulsted noted that Job Corps sites in Florida are currently seeking open beds for their students, who may be affected by an inbound hurricane.
"On each side of the coast we're either drowning or we're burning," she joked.
Troutdale resident Diane Castillo-White started to cry as she drove along the Lewis and Clark Highway in Washington late Monday night.
The wind was pushing the fire toward Troutdale, where Castillo-White lives near mile marker 1 on the Historic Columbia River Highway. She had been watching the smoke for hours, thinking the flames were confined to the hillsides near Bonneville Dam.
"(I realized) the rest of the Gorge is in in flames — everything has thousands of flames on it," she described. "It was like watching your friend go up in flames."
Corbett-based author Martha Grover, whose confessional writing style has been featured in The Outlook, offered similar thoughts on Facebook.
"This is our church burning to the ground," she wrote. "Our place of healing and peace (is) going up in flames."