BURNS, Oregon — The federal wildlife refuge in Oregon that has been occupied by an anti-government militia for days is more than 30 miles from the center of the small town of Burns, but the affects on daily life here have been strong — and patience is starting to fray.
Schools have shut down as a precaution, some families have left town until the matter is resolved, and several small businesses have remained closed as the town of 2,700 residents continue to deal with the ongoing standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.
"It's dividing our town," Jen, a local resident who declined to give her last name, told BuzzFeed News.
It all started after a group of armed men took over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge on Saturday about 30 miles south of town.
The group arrived in support of local ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, who were convicted of arson after burning 139 acres of federal land in 2001.
But the peaceful demonstration took a turn when some of the protesters headed toward the refuge and announced they would not be leaving until "federal overreach" on lands used and owned ranchers ended.
That action — and the anti-federal government rhetoric — took local residents by surprise, prompting some to pack up and leave town until the issue is resolved.
"I would say there's a sense of confusion in the sense of what's going on, and fear," Forrest Keady, a father of two, told BuzzFeed News.
He said some families he and his wife know — including those with relatives in local police departments — have left town.
Schools in the communities of Burns and Hines will also remain closed for the week as a precaution, with district officials issuing a recorded message for parents that "ensuring staff and student safety is our greatest concern."
At the refuge, however, leaders of the group said residents were not in danger and said they did not pose a danger to schools.
"How many miles is it from here to Burns?" LaVoy Finicum said when asked about the school closures, pointing in the direction of the city. "If I was a kid, I'd think this was great."
Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, meanwhile, has asked the Oregon State Sheriff's Association for help in increasing patrols in Burns and Hines.
"They're here to maintain a safe and secure environment while we work with the issues on hand," Ward said in a message posted on YouTube.
Ward is also expected to hold a community meeting Wednesday, where he plans to talk to residents about the impacts the community has faced since the refuge was taken over, a sheriff's official told BuzzFeed News.
Though media will be allowed into the meeting, the official said the meeting was mainly geared toward addressing the concerns of residents.
Several small businesses in the city have also kept their doors closed this week, despite posted hours that would suggest they would be open. Despite the influx of visitors, including a large national media contingent, several small restaurants have remained closed and many shops along the town's main streets had their lights off midday.
Just how much longer the occupation would wear on seemed up in the air as the situation remained paralyzed Tuesday. Local officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News there were efforts to reach out to the militia via intermediaries, but would not discuss what those efforts have included.
Speaking to reporters at the start of the week, Ammon Bundy, the leader of the occupation, appeared confident that authorities would bide their time.
"They intend not to come upon us."
Salvador Hernandez is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Salvador Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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