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August 20, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Aug. 20, 2018

 Jr. Miss Muscogee (Creek) Nation Tells Her Story as a Wildfire Evacuee 

OKMULGEE, Okla. – While attending Idyllwild Arts Summer Program in Idyllwild, Calif., Jr. Miss Muscogee (Creek) Nation Louisa Harjo and about 300 other students were unexpectedly asked to evacuate the Idyllwild Arts campus due to a rapid spreading wildfire.

Harjo, who has been pursuing her dream of one day working in the fashion industry, received a full-ride scholarship to the two-week Fashion Design Intensive program that hosts Pre-K to 12th Grade students from across the world.

After only a short time at the camp, Harjo and the other students returned from a thrift shop to begin their first project when smoke became visible in the area.

“Then there was big smoke and it started to cover the sun so everything looked orange,” Harjo said. “All of us are fashion people and we thought it looked so cool and was such a good inspiration for us.”

But that motivation soon turned to panic. The fire continued to grow while alarms sounded in the area and staff began directing students toward the evacuation point.

Harjo said the fear transpired throughout the camp in a short time with staff advising students there was no time to return to the dorms to grab their belongings.

“There was so much going on at that time, ash was falling from the sky and my heart was racing because I didn’t know what to do,” Harjo said. “Then through the smoke we could actually see the fire. That’s when they told us to start walking and it was just really hot.”

The staff had an evacuation plan in place and was able to direct students to walk a mile and a half to the next town and with minimal cellphone signal, students began contacting their parents.

Harjo’s phone had 29 percent battery left when she contacted her mother, Cassandra Thompson, to let her know they were evacuating.

Thompson said once she heard from Harjo, she closely followed the news stations informing the fire was at zero containment starting with 25 acres and by the day’s end more than 13,000 acres had burned.

“It was hard not to have the news on because when she called they were walking and she said it was right there and the timeline coincided with what she was saying as far as the fire covering up the sides of the roads,” Thompson said.

Harjo said once they arrived at a high school at the bottom of the mountain, it began to thunderstorm and the smoke and ash created black rainfall that stained everyone’s clothing.

Fortunately, they were checked into a hotel late that night and were given clothing donations and several local entities provided breakfast and any help they could to assist the campers.

The fire was one of nine fires started by an arsonist, Brandon McGlover of Temecula, Calif., who was later detained by local law enforcement agencies.

Harjo said it was disappointing they were unable to complete the projects planned throughout the two-week course but said it was a lifechanging experience that has allowed her to grow as a person.

Harjo and Thompson believe the prayers from family, friends and church members allowed Harjo to be at peace throughout the tragic and unexpected events.

Idyllwild Arts advised parents they are working toward a resolution to make up for the activities and projects that were missed.

Harjo said it was a humbling experience that taught her about life survival and that from here on out she’ll be prepared and carry a bag of her necessities.

Harjo is back in school in Okemah starting her sophomore year. Sharing a summer break experience that not many others could match.

 

*Photos by: Louisa Harjo

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