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Hundreds of wildfire evacuees flock to Linn County Expo Center for refuge
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Hundreds of wildfire evacuees flock to Linn County Expo Center for refuge

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As spreading Cascades wildfires forced North Santiam Canyon residents from their homes late Monday and early Tuesday, some of them found a temporary home in Albany.

"I don't know if I have a home left," said Lyons resident Amanda Macnab. She, along with her son, daughter and husband, evacuated their home around 1:30 a.m. and took shelter in an Albany hotel Tuesday before landing at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center.

The center has a drive-through check-in station set up by the Linn County Community Emergency Response Team for evacuees in need of assistance. Staff will provide water and other resources volunteers have brought in as they're needed. Parking for vehicles and trailers is available in front and back of the Expo Center, and the stables have opened for people bringing along livestock.

The Benton County Fairgrounds has been identified as an overflow site should the Expo Center run out of space to accommodate evacuees.

Neva Anderson, Linn County emergency preparedness coordinator, said the Red Cross and Salvation Army have stepped in to set up an indoor shelter at the center by late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Until then, evacuees are asked to rest in their vehicles.

The Macnabs were among roughly 200 people who came to the center before 11 a.m. By about 6 p.m., the back parking lot was teeming with evacuees, volunteers, pets and livestock.

Two women seeking refuge outside the Expo Center, who declined to provide their names due to privacy concerns, said they each live alone near Lyons and watched as the Beachie Creek Fire grew closer to their homes. One evacuated to the other's house around 2 a.m., but, by 9 a.m., the threat became too much and they both headed to Albany together.

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Eighteen-year-old Lyons resident Cole Lenning drove his SUV to Albany in procession with his parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who were spread out in other vehicles with trailers attached.

"I was about to move out on the 12th," Lenning said, "and that place is about to burn down too." Now his family plans on taking refuge in Albany until the wildfires die down.

Local officials, including state Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis and Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker, helped unload donated supplies from volunteers' cars.

"They're just rolling in like crazy," Boshart Davis said. "These are just people that heard there's a need and they've been coming out. This community is amazing."

Tucker said that people interested in donating should — in addition to money or food — consider offering things like stuffed animals for kids and even animal husbandry expertise for the displaced who brought along their livestock. The county, he said, also plans on bringing in mental health experts for the grief evacuees are facing.

"There's going to be huge challenges," he said. "People's houses are being destroyed. It's an extremely stressful time and we're blessed to have a full span of people to help."

The communities of Mill City and Gates have been hit especially hard by the wildfire. Many evacuees thanked volunteers for buoying a sense of hope among those who fear returning home to nothing.

"They've done a phenomenal job from the second you drive in here," said Gates resident Donna Kamstra. "It really humbles you."

Reporter Nia Tariq can be reached at nia.tariq@lee.net.

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