Marla Melius and her family were on a camping vacation at Lake Billy Chinook Saturday morning when daughter Brittany realized something wasn’t right.
“It was like 10:30, I think, in the morning — we were just sitting there talking, and I smelled fire, and I was really confused. We had no idea what was going on.” Brittany Melius said later.
The wind-fueled wildfire, as it turned out, was just two camping spots away at Cove Palisades State Park.
As they began to realize just what was happening, they also quickly found out how many campers in the area were unaware of the dangerous situation that was unfolding.
“You didn’t think about anything,” Marla Melius said later. “We just left everything behind, and we drove away.”
A family friend, Terri Robinson, recalled the frantic efforts to warn others to leave quickly.
“I’m honking, yelling at people, because people were paralyzed with fear, just kind of standing around and watching it,” she recalled. “And I’m telling them, ‘Get out! Get out! Don’t worry about your camper!’ Because I see them trying to collect their items, and it’s like, ‘You don’t have time for that!’ That’s what I’m screaming at people.”
In the panic, the group got separated, leaving Marla Melius wondering where her brother-in-law and several other family members were.
She couldn’t reach their cellphones, and said officials at the campgrounds apparently were unaware of the evacuation protocols at the time.
“When my brother-in-law called me, that’s when I kind of broke down,” she said, tears rising. “Just hearing his voice, and knowing that he was watching from his side and seeing the fire, and knowing that that’s where we were. And just the two of us being able to connect and know that we — both families were safe.”