The wildfires in Oregon and their effects have been terrifying. In the last three days, things have progressed from historic windstorms to mandatory evacuations. I am extremely saddened to say I have multiple friends in Estacada who have had to evacuate their homes. Many of my other friends who live in Clackamas are currently level 1 which means “get ready to evacuate.” I am worried for the many different family group members: stressed out parents, scared kids, and clueless pets. How heartbreaking for parents who need to quickly decide what to take. How scary for kids who don’t know if and when they will return home or be safe. How intense for pets to watch their human family members frantically pack their belongings and rush them off to the car.
My husband and I have been glued to the news the past few days. Our kids are constantly hovering around us, so they are quite aware of what is going on with the fires as well. They know that there are fires in other parts of Oregon. My eight-year-old daughter asked me today (with tear-filled eyes and a trembling voice), “Will we have to leave our house too, mom?” I gave her my honest opinion and said, “I don’t know honey. But what I do know is that where we live in Portland: we have not been advised to start getting ready to go yet.” I went on to explain what levels 1, 2, and 3 mean regarding evacuation. Here is a link to explain it: https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2020/09/08/oregon-wildfire-evacuations-levels-issued-marion-county-lincoln-washington/5749510002/
Level 1 means: get ready. Level 2 means: get set (ready to leave in a moment’s notice). Level 3 means: leave immediately. After I explained the levels, my daughter had many more questions. Where will we go? When can we go back home? What if our house burns down? We’ll bring our fish, right? I answered her questions to the best of my ability. This conversation prompted an urge to research how to talk to kids about a serious situation like an evacuation due to weather/fires/etc. Here are some tips that I found online.
· Talk to them about what is going on
· Reassure them that you will take care of them
· Limit the news/media
· Stick to routines and display familiar items in your temporary setting, if possible
· Give them choices in your new setting, if possible. Examples: what to eat, what to wear
· Accept help from others if offered
This article also notes the range of emotions and behaviors that kiddos may exhibit due to this stressful situation. Examples include: Depression, anger, aggression, difficulty concentrating, physical changes such as sleeping/eating habits, among other things. Here is a link to this very helpful article: http://konterragroup.net/usaid/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Helping-Children-Cope-With-Evacuation.pdf
Another big consideration to make when evacuating with kids is what to bring. I know my kids would desperately try and bring every last toy that they have. I have already talked to them about this and said, “I hate to say it y’all. But try to imagine that you can only bring one huge bag of toys. I want you to start thinking about the most important things to you, and what you would want to bring if we had to evacuate.” I have reassured them that we can replace the other things they may have to leave behind. I have also reassured them that I will take care of packing the other vital things like food, water, and their clothes. I found a really good resource that explains what you should be packing dependent on how much “notice” you have.
Also, here is the link to a list of temporary shelters in Oregon: https://www.koin.com/news/wildfires/list-temporary-shelters-as-wildfires-rip-through-oregon/
If you are fortunate enough to help or donate to the wildfire relief in Oregon, here is a link: https://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/2020/09/09/oregon-wildfires-how-to-help-red-cross-donations-beachie-creek-lionshead-almeda/5756706002/
Aside from talking with your kids and thinking about evacuation: I would say that if you can, offer help to neighbors and family. I have been blown away by the kindness I have seen on social media the last few days. I have read of many people offering the shelter of their home to others, offered their land for people to bring their horses/large animals, and offered food/water/resources to others. Many people have also shared vital info for others on their social media pages. I love this. It seems common to find acts of kindness in extreme times like this: but it is refreshing and revitalizing every time I see it/read about it. For right now, check on your family and friends. Squeeze your babies tight. Take deep breaths. Offer help if you are able. Best of luck to you all in staying safe, spreading kindness and resources, and taking good care of your families.
Stephanie McCoy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon-where she still lives. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Education degree from Concordia University. In her free time: she likes to read and write, get outdoors, embrace her kiddos and husband, and watch travel documentaries.