Asit Rathod knows Mount Hood.
For someone who recently broke her femur and then nearly got trapped inside a burning Mount Hood condo building, Ericka Lafever is in a remarkably positive state of mind. Probably because things could have ended up much worse for her, had her mountain friends not rallied to save her Monday.
Lafever is 21 years old, originally from Ridgefield, Washington. She moved to Government Camp last Thanksgiving. She was staying at the Golden Poles Chalet on Multorpor Road near Skibowl East with her friend Karlie Domine, a lift operator at Timberline, and Karlie's father Rick Domine. Lafever also worked at Timberline as a server, and she went out snowboarding with friends as often as possible.
On April 2, the day after a big, late snowstorm on Mount Hood, Lafever hit a tree while snowboarding and broke her femur. “I basically broke off a chunk of my bone, right above the knee,” she says. “They say in three weeks I should be able to put partial weight on it, and in 2 months I should be able to start walking on it without crutches.”
She didn’t have to get a cast, but she did get crutches and a wheelchair. Unable to work because of her injury, she was planning to move out of the Golden Poles Chalet in a week and a half. Before she got a chance to move her out, however, the building went up in flames in a three-alarm fire.
On Monday, April 20, the day of the fire, Ericka had just gotten back to her apartment from lunch with her roommate Karlie up at Timberline. She was relaxing on the couch, thinking about taking a nap, when she thought she heard some construction noises outside, “like somebody was working on something, hammering stuff.”
Then she heard another sound, like someone knocking. She got up and went over to the door, noticing as she moved that her friend Scott Anderson was calling her. “I kind of ignored his first call, because I was already on my way to the front door,” she says. “And then I open up the door a tiny bit and I just see the roof falling.”
Her apartment was on the second floor, and the third floor above her was on fire. Smoke was spreading like crazy and burning chunks of roof were falling over the eaves.
Ericka tried not to panic, but she really didn’t know what to do. “I’ve never broken my leg or anything,” she says. “I’ve never had to rely on one leg to get around. I can’t just run out of here. I don’t know what to do. So I turn myself around and get back into the hallway, and Scott is calling me again, and I answer. And he’s like, ‘Your house is on fire. We’re out front. You need to get out somehow.’”
Ericka knew she couldn’t take the elevator because of the fire, and there was no way she was going to make it down the stairs in her wheelchair. Plus Scott had just warned her not to try coming out through the front door. He had been playing horseshoes when he heard about the fire, realized she might be in there with no way out, and grabbed a few guys from the local watering hole Charlie’s to come help her.
“I was just kind of freaking out on the phone with him,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do — I have one leg!’
She decided that the only way down was the balcony out on the back side of the building, away from the street and above the chalet’s heated pool. “I got myself out onto the balcony, and four guys came running around the corner,” she says. “And automatically Scott jumps up and gets to me over the railing, and within minutes these four guys are carrying me down.”
She couldn’t believe how quickly it happened. Scott somehow managed to scale the building in no time at all, while his friends climbed up onto the roof over the pool to help.
“I had to swing my legs over the balcony railing, and they had three guys down below waiting for me to jump. But I couldn’t exactly jump. So they got this stool from somewhere, and I put my good leg on it, and then they supported me as I climbed down. I got down onto the pool roof, and then down from there. One of the guys put me on his back once we got down to level ground.”
Scott moved quickly to save her wheelchair and crutches from the fire, and she yelled to him to get the keys to her van. “He got my backpack, which had my ID in it, and my van keys, which are like my life and soul and everything I’ve worked for," she says. "And he somehow got my wheelchair down two balconies. I don’t know how he did it. It all happened within 10 minutes.”
Ericka took this photo right after the rescue:
The fire trucks were starting to arrive as Ericka’s rescuers got her across Multorpor Road. She wasn’t in the mood to sit and watch the building burn and breathe more smoke, and she wanted to get her van across the bridge over Hwy. 26 before she got boxed in. So she left without talking to any of the firefighters or reporters who were pouring into Government Camp from as far off as Portland, 55 miles west.
“I just wanted to get across the street to Charlie’s and get some water,” she says, “because I had just breathed in all this smoke. And I was so dehydrated! I went and sat in there, and everyone was so nice to me.”
Here is what the 30-unit Golden Poles Chalet looked like a few hours later (Photo by Robin Cressy). Dozens of firefighting units responded to the blaze, and the building burned for 24 hours straight and has been smoldering since.
In retrospect, Ericka says she feels fortunate. She still has her van and the possessions that were inside it, and more importantly she still has her health.
“If it had gotten any worse in there, no person would have been able to get in. I am so glad that they came so quickly. Because I didn’t even know there was a fire. I was just sitting there. I could have been sleeping. My phone could have been dead.”
Ericka Lafever also feels lucky to get so much support from friends and neighbors. “The community has been awesome,” she says. “I love Govy. All these people that I barely know are calling and saying ‘Whatever you need, just ask.’ And Timberline has been awesome. They sent a care package yesterday.”
The cause of the Golden Poles fire is still a mystery. Early reports mentioned an explosion and a large amount of gunpowder allegedly stored in one of the units. But Ericka says she did not hear an explosion. She wishes she had heard something, so she could have been alerted to the fire earlier. She also wishes she had been warned by smoke detectors and fire alarms inside the building that did not seem to work properly, but that is another story.
Major questions remain about the cause and consequences of this fire, and any informational tips are greatly appreciated.
I will update this article and others as more information trickles out about the biggest fire to hit Government Camp in a long time.