Living in Limbo Along the McKenzie
On their 25th wedding anniversary in September 2020, Andrew and Sarita Carrino woke up without a home.
Around midnight the day before, Andrew Carrino stood at the top of his driveway watching the flashing lights of police cars as they passed by in the McKenzie River Valley east of Eugene, Oregon. He waved in hopes of getting the officers’ attention, but the cars kept moving.
The police were heading towards the nearby settlement of Blue River to begin evacuating residents from an oncoming wildfire. After the cars went by, Andrew turned around to see a wall of flames on a nearby forested hillside heading directly towards his own home.
Meanwhile, his wife Sarita Inch-Carrino, unaware of the fire, picked up her phone to see a text from her daughter-in-law asking if they had evacuated. While trying to decipher the text message, Sarita peered out the window to see the onrushing flames for herself.
Andrew and Sarita reunited at their home’s front door only long enough to create a makeshift evacuation plan. Andrew ran next door to his mother’s home and banged on the locked front door until she woke up. Sarita packed their dog, Nessie, and parrot, Parker, into the car.
Within minutes, Andrew, Sarita, and his mother, Alexis Johnson, were driving west towards Eugene in a three-car caravan to escape the fire. The clouds of smoke surrounding them seemed endless, and cascades of burning embers dropped onto the cars from the canopy of trees above.
“When we left that night, I figured we were coming back and everything would still be here,” Andrew said. That wasn’t the case.
They didn’t know right then that the flames that night would consume not only their home but also the next year and a half of their lives.
For Sarita, the months after the 2020 Holiday Farm fire were filled with doubt and heartache. She said that seeing the scorched landscape surrounding their home left her feeling paralyzed. She has battled her grief in search of hope, and in recent months she’s found optimism in the renewed growth of the forest.
They were not alone. The Holiday Farm Fire of September 7, 2020, burned more than 173,000 acres, destroyed more than 450 homes, and left hundreds of people without their houses. This is the story of Andrew and Sarita’s long, slow, anguishing process of rebuilding their home after they lost everything to fire on the night before their 25th wedding anniversary.