Lone Rock’s life’s work goes up in flames: Emotional aftermath of the Oregon 2020 Wildfires
A phone rings at 1 a.m. on a September night; the person on the other end of the line warns of a fire in Glide: a forest fire. A fire near town, near homes, farms, cattle, horses, businesses, threatening the very heart of Douglas County commerce and culture: its timber.
Immediately, Toby Luther, president and CEO of Lone Rock Resources, who received this call, assembles a team to work to evacuate Lone Rock’s property and put out the French Creek Fire. His firefighters and crew frantically work through the night to protect the area despite bad wind conditions. This fire is under control by midday, and everyone thinks the panic is over.
They are wrong.
But, a round of thank you’s was in order, so Luther coordinates with Trinity Barney, the manager of Idleyld Trading Post, to deliver sandwiches to the firefighters. On her way there, Luther tells Barney to turn back and return to her store. He has received another message of an additional fire, the Archie Creek fire, and the panic is back.
The struggle to protect the forestlands, the homeland, has only just begun.
This was day one for Luther during the Oregon wildfires this past September, and it is still not over yet.
Since September, Luther and the Lone Rock team in their around-the-clock work to restore the forest daily face the unprecedented devastation and loss brought by the Archie Creek fire.
“Fire is part of our life in forestry in Oregon, but we have never experienced anything remotely close to this one,” Luther said in a phone interview.
Luther and his Lone Rock employees not only feel that devastation on a commercial level but also on a personal one.
“The economic loss is probably somewhere near $500 million when you take all the homes lost, all the forest land and the rest,” Luther said. “That loss will pass. At the end of the day, what we really lose is the emotional hit. All of us who spent our summers driving up the North Umpqua to hike or fish or camp. For me, I have been doing that for 25 to 30 years. That is not going to be back. In my lifetime, that is not going to look the same, and that’s really hard.”
Lone Rock Resources has quite literally helped grow Douglas County during its over 60 years of business planting and harvesting trees. While Douglas County’s forests may be the economic drive of the company, the Umpqua Watershed home to Lone Rock’s local forests represents the culture of the community: indispensable, essential, grounding, steadying, spiritual, sacred.
This culture is upheld largely by the Oregon logging community. The same community who helped to fight the fires and lost their life’s work, the forests, because of them.
Lone Rock had about 70 employees who worked on the French Creek and Archie Creek fires. While these employees are loggers in their day to day, they are trained to assist the fire service. Their service lasted about 11 days with over 6,600 hours total, and they contributed 30 miles of fire line to battling the Archie Creek Fire, Luther said.
“Seven or eight employees were evacuated from their own homes,” Luther said. “So, by day, they were out there fighting fire with us and building fire line, but by night they were running home and helping their neighbors and trying to protect their own homes. It was pretty stressful and emotional for everybody.”
Luther, who grew up in Alaska but took a shine to the Umpqua area, finds that simply seeing the once thriving forest reduced to blackened twigs and stumps is heart-wrenching.
“I’ve made probably 15 trips up the North Umpqua Highway since the fire to go out to see the guys or check out stuff,” Luther said. “It is emotional every time you drive out there. It is a big hit looking at what happened and knowing that it is not coming back any time soon. It may be my grandkids’ (generation) before it will look the same and be able to recreate on. So, for us, that hit will probably last far beyond the economic impacts.”
That economic loss is still felt, however, by many. The Archie Creek Fire alone burned over 130,000 acres, and 109 residences were lost.
Lone Rock itself is still in the process of managing their damage and assessing their losses. The company lost about 6,500 acres in the Archie Creek Fire alone.
Out of the 6,500 acres, only about 40 percent were merchantable acres, of which Luther is hoping to get around 85 to 90 percent of the merchantable volume harvested. This equates to about 43 million board feet of merchantable timber. About 60 percent of the forest was too young to harvest for any value; that young growth will also have to be replanted.
Reforestation is not an easy or simple process. Lone Rock is looking at about three years’ worth of efforts to reforest the lost forest engulfed by the Archie Creek Fire. Lone Rock will be moving forward with replanting efforts and harvesting efforts as much as time and resources allow.
The reason for much of the difficulty with harvesting these fire-damaged lands is the timing and added dangers of salvage logging after wildfires.
To learn more about this reforestation process and the long-term impacts that Lone Rock might be facing, see The Mainstream’s next story on Lone Rock’s replanting efforts in the next installment of the publication’s Wildfire Recovery series. In this series, student reporters guide the community through Douglas County’s fire recovery journey.
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