SPRINGFIELD — As devastating wildfires rage across Oregon, a small corner of an otherwise empty, smoke-laden field offers a pocketful of hope.
An evacuation site behind Springfield High School near the Holiday Farm fire has become an oasis for children of families forced to flee their homes and escape the 145,000-acre fire.
“Who wants to play ‘What time is it Mr. Fox?’” Superman shouts to a gaggle of elementary school-aged children.
“Me!” they scream in unison.
The group lines up in the open field. Superman quickly explains the rules of the game.
“What time is it, Mr. Fox?” Belle of “Beauty and the Beast” asks the children.
“Twelve!” one of the kids yells.
Belle, who magically appeared at the Silke Field evacuation site, is Lexi Longstreet.
Longstreet, 21, owns Enchanted Parties in Junction City and volunteered to visit the site with superheroes Batman and Superman. Together, the trio offered comfort and companionship to children of families who arrived there in search of basic necessities as they transitioned out of their homes and into safety.
It’s a mission to “bring hope back to our community,” Longstreet said.
“A lot of people just really need someone to talk to right now,” said Superman, aka Dylan Alexander, 19, of Eugene.
Tens of thousands of Oregonians have been forced to evacuate their homes. More than 900,000 acres of land — entire towns in some cases — have been decimated. At least four people have died. Dozens more are missing.
Against the backdrop of this grim, bewildering landscape, Belle sits on a bench and, with cheer and calm, begins to read.
“All of us in this castle were put under a strange spell some years ago by a powerful enchantress,” she tells the child seated next to her.
“I’ve seen you in the movies,” the young girl says, transfixed.
Longstreet doesn’t miss a beat. Maintaining character, she continues to read.
“She turned the young prince into a terrible beast because he was selfish and cruel,” she says.
“There was only one way the prince could break the spell. The enchantress gave him a magic rose that would bloom until his 21st birthday,” she continues. Then, breaking out of the story, she looks over at the girl.
“Just like yours!” she says, pointing to the flower cupped in the girl’s hands.
“The prince would remain a beast until he could learn to love and be loved before the last petal fell from the rose,” she says.
Oregonians across the western side of the state have been forced to flee to evacuation sites, hotels, fairgrounds — anywhere to escape the treacherous fires, many of them running uncontrolled, including the Holiday Farm fire east of Eugene-Springfield.
Batman, aka Tanner Alexander (Superman’s — aka Dylan — identical twin brother) offered his thoughts on the trio’s value.
A hug, a kind word can go a long way, he said. “And having people here just to offer those things, even if they might be small, it’s very important.”
After finishing the book, Belle and the girl compare dresses, swirling together amid the haze.
“I think it’s really important that everyone has a hero,” Belle says, “someone they can look up to.”
Superman, one such hero, stands on the track with his cohort during a brief pause in the activity. His red cape hangs lifeless in the stagnant air.
“People need to know that there’s brighter days ahead,” he said, “and that we can get through this together if we try hard enough.”