In the midst of the wildfires that have devastated Clackamas County and other parts of the state for a week and a half, stories are beginning to emerge that show the strength and indomitability of the human spirit, and offer reason for hope.
One such story was shared on Facebook recently by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Hayden Sanders. Sanders was patrolling his normally assigned route on Wednesday, Sept. 9, just as the wildfires in Clackamas County were taking hold.
“I began hearing that the fires in and around Clackamas County were continuing to grow in size and were nearing several of our local communities,” Sanders said. “I immediately responded to the Eagle Creek/Estacada area and jumped in with the first evacuation crew I could find.”
Sanders went door-to-door for hours, he said, making sure neighbors and fellow community members were aware of the fire and making every effort to help get them out of the path of danger.
Later that night, around 9 p.m., Sanders, his younger brother, Deputy Evan Sanders, and another deputy learned the fire was rapidly approaching the city of Estacada and were asked to make a quick trip out to Highway 224 to look for stranded motorists.
“As we left the city of Estacada, it was abruptly clear to us how large and powerful this fire truly was,” Hayden Sanders wrote. “I was suddenly watching the same forest and scenery that I have taken such pride in calling home — as well as my workspace — burn.”
One of their final stops that night was at the Clackamas River RV Park near Promontory Park.
As soon as they entered, they could see the park was surrounded by fire on three sides. They could also see a “large and beautiful American flag” flying near the entrance of the RV park.
After ensuring the park was empty, and seeing that the inferno was quickly closing around them, the deputies knew it was time to leave. The fire was now only 100 yards or so away, Sanders estimated.
“But I also knew we had to take one thing with us: the flag,” Sanders said.
The deputies tried to untie and lower Old Glory, but the rope was stuck. With no other options, they cut the rope and caught the flag as it fell to the ground.
The flag was saturated with smoke, filling the deputies truck with the aroma of a campfire. Sanders remembers thinking that it was a “humbling reminder” of the situation they all faced.
“The world isn’t always perfect, and hard times come and go,” he later said. “But by remembering what that flag stands for and the priorities it implies, I couldn’t help but feel inspired. As long as people come together, we can overcome any obstacle.”
Sanders, a lifetime Clackamas County resident, has hope for what lies ahead.
“This is my home, and the people I get the pleasure of serving every day are my neighbors,” he said. “This fire has challenged us in ways we have never faced, but I want my neighbors to rest assured: Your sheriff’s office, police departments and fire departments have offered the best of the best to the fight.
“Take care of each other, work together and we will prevail.”
Oh, and that flag they rescued? It was carefully folded and returned to Valerie Gourneau, the manager of the RV park and owner of the flag, on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
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