As historic wildfires ravaged the countryside — and firefighters and civilians alike battled impossible odds to protect homes and properties — it’s the little things that stood out, says Colton Rural Fire District Lt. Chris Cohoon as he reflects on the experience.
“I think the biggest thing that will stick is the generosity of people, other fire districts,” Cohoon tells the Current. “Aurora Fire opened their station up to us.”
That happened on Thursday, Sept. 11, after Colton crews had been on the front lines of both the Unger and massive Riverside fires for more than three straight days.
“Aurora emptied their station and said, ‘Hey, you guys, come in here, we have hot food, we have showers,'” Cohoon recalls. “Their chief put the call out: ‘We’re going to host Colton,’ and the Aurora community showed up with cots and sleeping bags and brand-new pillows — more stuff than you could ever imagine.”
It was a “very simple” decision, says Aurora Fire Chief Joshua Williams.
“If the fires were in my area and Aurora firefighters needed a place, Colton would have taken us in just as quick,” he says. “These fires required teamwork and compassion from everybody. That is what the fire service is all about.”
Colton is a small farming community located between Molalla and Estacada — once dominated by the logging trade. Its fire force of some-30 souls is entirely volunteer. Its station on Main Street (which is also known as Highway 211) shares space with the Colton Water District.
When they showed up on Aurora’s doorstep, Chief Williams says, they were weary but by no means beaten or broken.
“They were tired but also full of resilience,” he says. “They were always anxious to return after a few hours’ rest. These guys and gals are absolutely dedicated to their community.”
During the fire outbreak, the community and virtually the entire Colton Fire District — more than 40 square miles of farms and rural homes — was put on level 3 evacuation status.
Most of them slept at the Aurora firehouse for several days — in cots and sleeping bags and pillows donated by Aurora citizens. The community also chipped in towels, toiletries, food and other essentials.
Several Colton firefighters and their families who had been evacuated were moved into a nearby house owned by Aurora Fire, while others moved RVs onto the district’s training grounds.
“They just opened up their home to us, and it was amazing,” says Cohoon. “The generosity of people coming together, not just from Colton but the surrounding area — Estacada, Molalla.”
Aurora stood out to him, especially, because of its size and the fact that it’s located in another county. That same week, Aurora Fire had signed and donated one of its engines to the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District — whose community was nearly wiped off the map by the devasting Beachie Creek inferno.
“The generosity of that fire district is amazing,” says Cohoon. “The chief over there — that guy is something special.”
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