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Tens Of Thousands Of People Ordered To Evacuate Medford, Ore.


Go now - people living in the southern neighborhoods of Medford, Ore., have been given that order. Winds are driving fires across the Pacific Northwest. A fire destroyed almost the entire town of Malden, Wash., yesterday. April Ehrlich of Jefferson Public Radio is in Grants Pass, Ore., this morning. Hi, April.


KING: What's happening where you are right now?

EHRLICH: Yeah. So there are several wildfires here in southern Oregon. One of them is about 3,000 acres. And it's covering mostly residential areas in and around Medford. It's especially impacted the smaller towns to the south like Talent, Ore., where about 7,000 people live, including me. I had to evacuate along with a hundred - hundreds of my neighbors. There were only two ways to get out of town. It was packed with cars. What should have been a 20-minute drive ended up taking an hour.


EHRLICH: Yeah. Once my family was safe at a friend's house, I took off to do some reporting. I went to an evacuation center to get more information. I met a lot of people who lived at a mobile home park that was destroyed by the fire, including Edward Hancock. Here's what he saw.

EDWARD HANCOCK: Dark smoke coming in and seeing houses burning and hearing houses blow up from the - probably the gas lines and so forth. So I heard popping and houses blowing up and on fire.

KING: You're one of the people, as you said, who's had to evacuate. There are tens of thousands of others. What is the option for you guys right now? Are you being told, like, try to go to friends' houses? Are there shelters? I mean, all of this is happening in the middle of coronavirus. So I imagine people are trying to take as much care as they can.

EHRLICH: Yeah. So local officials have only provided one evacuation center at the county fairgrounds. And they weren't providing beds to most people. They only provided beds to people who were vulnerable, like people with disabilities or people who were elderly. Those beds filled up pretty quick. And then they started directing people to another county fairground about an hour north. A lot of people I met didn't have cars. And they had to hitchhike their way to this county fairground. And I don't know why they're not providing beds. It could be that they don't want to create a shelter where people could spread the coronavirus.

Before all of this happened, I had done some reporting on the question of, what will we do if we have to evacuate people during a pandemic? At that time, the American Red Cross told me that they planned on putting people up in hotels so that they can have their own rooms. That doesn't appear to be happening right now. And all of the hotels in the surrounding area are booked.

KING: Can I ask you - I assume that we were talking about a relatively rural area. You said a lot of people don't have cars and are hitchhiking. Why don't folks there have cars?

EHRLICH: Well, the fire is blowing through very low-income small towns. So...


EHRLICH: ...Phoenix, Ore., Talent, Ore. Actually, this fire has hit a lot of mobile home parks.

KING: And then, can I ask you, in the couple seconds we have left, what is the forecast for today - any relief?

EHRLICH: No. It still looks like it's going to be very dry, very hot, very windy. There are fires all over this region, all over the state. And it - right now, it feels like there's just nowhere to go where it isn't impacted by fire.

KING: OK. April Ehrlich of Jefferson Public Radio. Thanks, April.

EHRLICH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRAMEWORKS SONG, "SAND AND STONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

April Ehrlich began freelancing for Jefferson Public Radio in the fall of 2016, and then officially joined the team as its Morning Edition Host and a Jefferson Exchange producer in August 2017.