‘Thought of not having my happy place is hard’

The Archer Mountain Fire was sparked by the Eagle Creek Fire

Ray Johnston holds his dog Poppy at the shelter for Archer Fire evacuees at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, September 6, 2017 (KOIN)
Ray Johnston holds his dog Poppy at the shelter for Archer Fire evacuees at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, September 6, 2017 (KOIN)

SKAMANIA COUNTY, Wash. (KOIN) — About 150 people are temporarily calling the Skamania County Fairgrounds home after fleeing their homes from the Archer Mountain Fire, sparked by the Eagle Creek Fire. The Archer Mountain Fire has grown to more than 100 acres.

Everyone there has one thing in common: they’re anxious to go home. In the meantime, they’re doing the best they can to support each other as they live in tents, trailers and a Red Cross shelter.

Community volunteers have also started a pet shelter at the Skamania County Fair Grounds, where cats, dogs, chickens, turtles and goats have a safe place to stay.

If you’re looking for Betty Jean Rush and her mother Valerie, chances are you’ll find them at the pet shelter. The Rush family has lived in Cascade Locks since 1967 but the wildfire forced them out on Sunday.

Valerie, who is 81 and kiddingly described herself as “over the hill,” checked up on their family cat, Midnight Hour, to “make sure he’s doing OK.”

Betty Jean grew up visiting her grandparents, so when she evacuated she grabbed a special stuffed monkey her grandfather won for her grandmother at a fair.

“That monkey was one of my best friends, so I decided there’s no finding that monkey anymore,” she told KOIN 6 News. “So I decided to take it” when they fled their home.

Staying at the Red Cross shelter hasn’t been easy. Betty Jean has been battling cancer and just finished radiation treatments.

“Then I get told there’s a fire coming towards town,” she said.

Brenda Johnston does some artwork at the shelter for Archer Fire evacuees at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, September 6, 2017 (KOIN)
Brenda Johnston does some artwork at the shelter for Archer Fire evacuees at the Skamania County Fairgrounds, September 6, 2017 (KOIN)

Brenda Johnston, her husband Ray and their dog Poppy had to evacuate their home in Cascade Locks Sunday. Brenda, who is an artist, took one special thing with her — a painting she made for herself of what she calls her “happy place.”

It’s a garden in her backyard where she finds peace and tranquility.

Her home, she said, “is still there so I know I’m going to get to go back to it so far, but the thought of not having my happy place, my 20 years worth of my artwork because I’m an artist, it’s hard. It’s really hard.”

All they can do, she said, is just keep going.

Betty Jean Rush said her faith keeps her strong. She and her mother are anxious to go home and hoping for the best.

“Well, I’m not sure if I’m going to get through trying to get her mellowed,” Valerie said laughing. “But me, I get through anything anymore. It’s what’s next. I want a little more peace and quiet. I’m getting too much excitement nowadays.”