Walk Through Fire: Umpqua’s Last Resort

Part One: Things We Lost in the Fire

by Sebastian Fortino
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The Pacific Northwest suffered many horrible fires last summer. PQ received an impassioned letter from L.J. Sullivan, a resident and employee of an area nearly devastated by fire. While this was in February, we wanted to wait until Summer 2018 so we could hear of their plans to forge ahead, anew. 

This is a story from residents, empolyees, and owners who bravely banded together during the August fires which hit the Umpqua Campground, and their neighbors in the community of Dry Creek, Douglas County.  In a few weeks, as they kick off their Summer Season which has many welcoming events for the queer community, we'll bring you part two

Just wanted to inform you of a story in the community of Dry Creek, at a gay-owned and operated business. This is in rural Douglas County, Oregon, about surviving last year’s fires. I'm L.J., my partner and I, Jesse are camp hosts and employees of Umpqua's Last Resort in Dry Creek, 50 miles east of Roseburg. We are an RV Resort and campground with cabins in the Umpqua National Forest. We spent two weeks evacuated, and although our park and homes still stand, fire has burned 25,000 plus acres on all sides. Dustin, the owner of Umpqua’s Last Resort, and his brother have built this place into a community, that always happens to be at least 50% gay, over the last 10 years. We hold events all summer, check out The CampOUT! group on Facebook. We rely on the gay community as well as the general forest-loving public for our livelihoods.

There’s also the newly reopened Dry Creek Store next to us, owned by partners Chris and Steve. This was their first year open and after a great year, August took its toll on many of us. We are making it through,  and hope to come out on top. We have been here as a safe place for our community to come camp, be free, be gay, and be themselves for years and plan to continue that mission. The road ahead will be nonetheless very rough.

We had to evacuate at the beginning of the year’s biggest event, our August Men’s CampOUT. Many of our guests were evacuated with us while here on vacation. Regular, and first time guests from as far away as Seattle, and San Jose stayed with us at Toketee Camp ground and showed support and love and made the stress much easier. We still had a good time, although often we didn't know if our homes were standing, or if Dustin's brother John who stayed to protect the park with an army of firefighters was OK. It was lost on none of us that the smoke of the burning forest is the one that we live in and love.

People whom I believe sometimes write for you have stayed at, and love this place. It is really special. Our Blue Mountain in a Bright Red County. We just need people to know we're still here,  and once reopened (unknown when at this point) we welcome everyone with open arms, as we have for 10 years.

Thank you.

Update: February 24th 2018

Due to the hard work and dedication of as many as 800 firefighters, Umpqua’s Last Resort, The Dry Creek Store, and the community of Dry Creek made it through without losing any major structures. Several homes and cabins had severe smoke damage from spending over a month saturated in smoke. Some of us left so quickly that we didn’t think or have time to shut windows and turn off ventilation systems. Camping in the woods, with our many terrified dogs and cats was many people’s only option other than living in vehicles. This happened during the eclipse, and every hotel room was completely booked. Red Cross set up a shelter, but due to road closures the 30 minunte drive to the shelter in Glide was turned into a five hour drive going by way of Medford, or Eugene. Many of us had friends and relatives willing to lend a hand, or a couch, but logistically and with road closures the best option was to stick it out together. The only communication we had with the outside world, being way past cell phone service boundaries, was all of us hot spotting off of the two people that had Verizon and could get reception.

The community really pulled together, everyone helped everyone else. Our nearest store was close to Bend, a two-hour drive WITHOUT eclipse traffic on Highway 97. A GoFundMe page received many generous donations, helping the community get back on its feet. A very generous private donation allowed every Dry Creek resident, that's about 25 people, a $300 tab at the Dry Creek store. This was instrumental as many of us had burned through any saved money at convenience stores and gas stations. It also helped the store move the large amount of inventory they had stocked up to prepare for a very busy eclipse weekend.

Clean-up took weeks. Smoke, and the wreckage of many times being the frontline of the fire did quite a bit of damage. We reopened in late September, the only time in 10 years that Umpqua's Last Resort had closed for any length of time. We are ecstatic to still be here as a safe place for the gay camping, or Glamping, community. Last year was on track to be our best year ever, an important milestone for a small business. This year we are having even more gay-themed events, such as the Superhero and Villain CampOUT, and Umpqua Gay Pride being held again on Memorial day weekend. The third weekend in August will again be our men’s weekend CampOUT!, and the weekend after we are hosting the Oregon Bears group.

Even with the areas damaged by fire, there is limitless opportunities in the Umpqua National forest for hiking, mountaing biking, waterfalls, rafting, fishing, and several other activities for people of all skill levels. We love showing people why we care so much for this area, and what makes it special.

Next week, we’ll bring you Part Two: Out of the Ashes. If you wish to learn more about visitng he park, visit CampOUT! or Umpqua's Last Resort the campground's offical website. 

Sebastian Fortino

Umpqua's Last Resort, August 2017, Courtesy of LJ Sullivan & Umpqua's Last Resort Thumbnail
Umpqua's Last Resort, August 2017, courtesy LJ Sullivan & Umpqua's Last Resort Thumbnail
Umpqua's Last Resort, August 2017, courtesy LJ Sullivan & Umpqua's Last Resort Thumbnail