Holiday Farm Fire evacuees told they would have to leave local hotels with less than 24 hours notice Wednesday were then told Thursday they can stay at least into October.
Some evacuees Wednesday got notice they would have to check out of the Holiday Inn Express in Eugene, where many who fled Blue River are staying and where moving-in University of Oregon students have existing reservations. Evacuees staying at Candlewood Suites in Eugene also got notice they would have to leave by Thursday.
Lane County Public Information Officer Devon Ashbridge said Thursday afternoon hotels sheltering evacuees will continue doing so at least through the first days of October.
Blue River resident Melanie Stanley said people got notices Wednesday afternoon from the Red Cross, which has facilitated evacuees’ hotel stays, telling them they had to check out of the Holiday Inn Express by noon Thursday to make room for other hotel clients.
“Due to a large event in Lane County, we need to honor the advanced reservations that many hotels currently hold,” a Red Cross flier given to evacuees at hotels read.
The notice offers evacuees shelter at Churchill High School and advises that evacuation levels in some areas affected by the Holiday Farm Fire have been lowered.
Though agreements had been made to keep evacuees in place by Thursday afternoon, Churchill shelter supervisor Cathy Powell said several people checked out of hotels and into the shelter. She said the shelter was set up specifically to take those evacuees.
District Sheltering Coordinator Bob Mayer said Red Cross used hotel rooms to shelter fire evacuees instead of congregate shelters because of concerns about COVID-19.
There have been between 800 and 900 evacuees in local hotels since the fire drove them from their homes last week, Ashbridge said. The Holiday Inn Express in Eugene said in a news release Red Cross initially asked for 74 evacuee rooms for 164 people.
Ashbridge said only evacuees at the Holiday Inn Express and Candlewood Suites, both on Franklin Boulevard, got notices they had to leave, but two other hotels soon would have had a similar problem.
Stanley said she first heard about the room reservation concerns several days ago but on Wednesday morning was told by the Red Cross that evacuees’ place at the hotel was secure.
That had changed by the time she was coming back to the hotel Wednesday evening.
“I lost my polite at that point with the Red Cross,” Stanley said.
Holiday Inn Express General Manager Sarah Smith said many rooms were booked in advance to facilitate UO students moving in. Smith said her hotel was obligated to put them up or pay for those guests’ first night at other hotels.
Smith said their contract with the Red Cross had been set to expire Thursday. Smith said the hotel had told the Red Cross they couldn’t house evacuees after Friday at the latest.
Smith said she gave the Red Cross details on other hotels that would honor the same room rates for evacuees, but new arrangements hadn’t been made for them by Wednesday.
“That somehow got missed up the chain apparently,” Smith said.
Stanley said she and other Blue River residents at the Holiday Inn Express are happy their stay has been extended, but they remain vulnerable without homes of their own.
“I don’t think anyone right now is going to trust this sheltering situation,” Stanley said. “It sounds like a huge miscommunication, and if it breaks down again we’ll be the victims.”
Contact reporter Adam Duvernay at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @DuvernayOR.