Dealing with fire's smoky aftermath
Flames have disappeared, people and animals have returned from evacuations, and property that burned is being addressed.
But though the wildfires that impacted this area are gone, their sting isn't just affecting the buildings and homes that burned. Molalla Nazarene Church served as a hub where first responders gathered and organized during the blazes, as well as a site where those who were displaced rallied before everyone was forced to evacuate Molalla.
Upon returning to the church after the fire danger had passed, Pastor Todd Joyner and his congregation were hit by the damage done to their church even though not a lick of flame touched it. Smoke damage left its own mark on the church, requiring repair.
"When we were forced to evacuate, we were gone three or four days," Joyner said. "When we came back, I was praising God that the church was still here. But, we came inside and it was like walking into a campfire.
"You never think you'll deal with something like this when you become a minister," he added. "You never think you'll deal with insurance companies and fire damage."
Molalla Nazarene Church is a big facility and none of it went untouched by the smoke. Unfortunately, as they're still discovering, simply getting the smoke smell out is only part of the equation. The rest requires extensive changes at substantial cost.
"You smelled smoke everywhere," Joyner said. "We had been scheduling to reopen for multiple services the week the fires happened and it created a problem. The reopening was on hold."
Joyner said the first step was calling their insurance company, Brotherhood Insurance, to see could be done. Brotherhood suggested calling in a cleaning service to evaluate and assess the situation.
About 24 hours later, a pair of Serv-Pro contractors from California rolled into town and that's when the full extent of the smoke and ash damage started to be revealed — along with the costs.
"Two amazing guys, Ben Sussman and Jordon Katz, owned the franchise and they walked through and assessed everything," Joyner said. "The scope of the work and damage was around $500,000. It was amazing. I literally couldn't even think like that."
As it turns out, smoke gets in, and even though the smell can be removed, that doesn't necessarily get rid of all the issues the smoke causes. Serv-Pro and the insurance company worked together to do an extensive cleanup.
But more changes were coming. The church's pews, which were high quality, were simply too expensive to ship somewhere to be refoamed and reupholstered.
"The cost was astronomical," Joyner said. "But in pulling up the pews, they'd been bolted into the carpet, so we had to pull up and replace the carpet in the sanctuary and most of the upstairs."
And the hits just kept coming.
"We had super high-grade sound-absorbing curtains that lined the back of sanctuary, but because they were porous the smoke really got in there. That's where most of the smoke smell was coming from. We had to replace them to the tune of $12,000," he said.
Downstairs In the church's multipurpose gym, the smell was worse. This was where firefighters gathered and rested during the fire. The floor is a multi-use surface that connects like a puzzle. Once that was pulled up in spots, the amount of ash and other "gunk" that was underneath required the floor to be replaced as well.
"Because it's such a unique floor, the cost of taking it up, having it cleaned and finding someone to put it together again superseded the cost of just replacing it," Joyner said.
Through it all, Joyner said he and his church have worked hard to have a spirit of gratitude to have made it through the wildfires with a building intact and good people cleaning and repairing.
"So, we find ourselves in extensive communication with the insurance company, getting bids from companies to come in and replace things — everything will be replaced — and we'll probably have to go with chairs instead of pews," Joyner said. "The downside is we were looking to reopen during the week of the fires, now that's been pushed down the road. We still opened our doors, but we are using folding chairs and the sound is terrible. It's not the same, and I think some people who have been in this church a long time are struggling with these changes.
"But no one has a complaining spirit," he added. "This is what it is, and as a church we need to come together and unite."
And as he oversees these changes and the emotions that come with all that has transpired since the fires first threatened the area, Joyner said he sees a lot of God's hand in the process.
"I take away that God is choosing to bless us in the midst of the fire," he said. "God is using the fires to bring about change in this church. People have a new appreciation for things, in my opinion. God spared us, that's my feeling. We're grateful for what God's doing and certainly recognize that."
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