One man’s junk became treasure in the hands of his Molalla, Ore., neighbors as they fought to contain the Beachie Creek Fire as it threatened their homes.
Like many farmers, Tom Sleight can’t pass up a good deal on a piece of equipment.
“Everybody’s always made fun of me for all the junk laying around here, but it finally paid off,” Sleight said. “Everybody wanted to get up there, but they had no water.”
Sleight, also a diesel mechanic, had five water tankers. He started by getting his 6,000-gallon model on the road.
“I made the executive decision to run to Molalla and pull water out of the fire hydrant in front of the Carquest store,” he said. “I figured it didn’t much matter and I didn’t really care.”
Sleight put out a Facebook plea for mechanics who helped him build a fleet able to transport 40,000 gallons of water at a time.
“It still brings tears to my eyes,” he said. Time and again he said he was blown away by the dedication and willingness to help he saw.
“After (Gov.) Kate Brown did her crap, ordering everybody out, we went down to our homes, evacuated our families and animals and started doing our own fact-checking,” Sleight said. “We all sat there for a little bit and then we all just started driving back up.”
The two weeks Sleight dedicated to the fire likely means 200 acres of his farm will lie fallow this year. He hopes the burned trees don’t also go to waste.
Sleight said the government’s poor forest management — little thinning and decades-old forest floor accumulation — greatly increased the fire’s volatility.
“Hopefully, it will be an eye opener and they’ll do more raking and allow more public access on federal property,” Sleight said. “Those trees can still be salvaged; there’s no reason the wood won’t be good but I’m afraid they won’t make use of it and leave that stuff to fuel a bigger fire next time.”