News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Author tells of harrowing fight to save Breitenbush

First-time author Olivia Bylove has written a book about the struggle to save Breitenbush Hot Springs from the Lionshead Fire, with proceeds helping support the Breitenbush Fire Department.

Saving Breitenbush was published Sept. 8 on the third anniversary of the day the fire swept through the region in 2020, destroying much of the Detroit-area resort.

The book features interviews with firefighters, local residents and resort staff, and includes pictures of the fire and its aftermath.

Bylove said she decided to write the book after hearing so many stories while working at Breitenbush as a guest experience representative about those who stayed behind.

Six men including long-time employees and local firefighters staved off the fire for around 72 hours straight. They doused buildings with hoses, stamped out embers and buried firebrands until they were forced to retreat to the historic main lodge, which dates to 1927.

The lodge was one of the only buildings left standing, and Breitenbush was unable to reopen to the public until May of 2021.

Bylove interviewed these firefighting holdouts, as well as other wildfire survivors. What began as a story of passion and determination shifted into a contemplation of how disaster can change people’s lives, with her mind returning to the image of a crucible purifying metal.

“What I didn’t expect to happen was for (the book) to take on this larger theme of transformation and what happens to the people who stay and sit in the fire,” she said.

This contemplation extended into Bylove’s own life, as she joined Breitenbush in July of 2021 amid the chaos of COVID and was finishing a master’s degree, all while writing the book. At first she held back her own perspectives and wanted to focus on the experiences of the fire survivors, but her editor Katherine Factor encouraged Bylove to lay this part of herself bare.

“(Factor) picked out these moments in the book where my story came in and started saying, ‘Olivia, these are your strongest moments,’” said Bylove.

Factor would end up writing the forward for Saving Breitenbush.

Bylove’s personal reflections in the book dwell on the raw emotions of realizing one’s life has been forever changed by devastation and asking the question, “Why stay and fight for the hard thing?” Bylove said, in her experience, the answer involves acknowledging the change for what it is and seeing both the terribleness of a disaster and opportunities for renewal.

Within one month of the book’s release, the 100 copies Bylove had printed were sold out and she is in the process of printing more. The book is priced at $49 and 20% of proceeds will be donated to Breitenbush Fire Department.

Fire Chief Jordan Pollack said this is a significant boon for a volunteer-driven department whose annual budget is around $20,000. He said he hopes Bylove’s book will help people realize the enormity of what residents and first responders endured and why they fought to save their community.

“Olivia’s doing a good thing,” said Pollack. “She’s doing a book that will help people understand.”

When asked if there is another book in her future, Bylove said she is unsure. Though she has been a writer for many years, she said her first published book “was kind of a surprise” and she expects her next project to also reveal itself to her.

Whatever that project may be, Bylove said she can feel confident knowing she is a published author and survived her own crucible of transformation.

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