Victims of last fall's Oregon wildfires still in need
Five months removed from the most devastating wildfires in this state's history, the recovery has begun. But to the thousands of people who lost homes, jobs and more to the natural disasters, the need remains.
Dexter Danielson knows that.
As a former chaplain with the Forest Grove fire and police departments, Danielson has seen his share of loss and heartache as the result of fire. But this past year's wildfires — especially in the Santiam Canyon east of Salem — were on another level, he said.
"'Survival mode' is a good way to put it," Danielson said. "Many, many people are still just trying to put the pieces of their life back together."
Danielson is working with the Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary Club, of which he is a longtime member, to gather necessary supplies and deliver them to the Santiam Canyon. The club continues to collect everything from deodorants to generators.
"People who, in some cases, have lost it all don't discriminate," Danielson said.
Club President Mitch Taylor, a retired Oregon Forestry Department employee and wildland firefighter who aided crews in the Coast Range this past fall, spoke to the extent of the damage caused by last year's fires. From 2015 to 2019, Taylor pointed out, there were 90 homes total lost due to wildfires in Oregon. In 2020 alone, more than 4,000 were destroyed.
"The impact is logarithmic in comparison," Taylor said. "And a lot of people were really heavily impacted."
Danielson has been to the recovery effort's distribution center in the town of Sublimity and seen firsthand the suffering of those who lost everything from their home to their job — or both. It's important to remember that while the fires are gone, many people are still reeling, he said.
"It's easy for people to feel that pain in the moment, but it's just as easy for people — including myself — to forget with every passing day, week or month," he said. "People are still hurting. There are a lot of moving parts to this recovery, and it's going to take time."
Danielson and Taylor, along with the rest of their Rotary brethren, are doing their part, hoping to expedite that recovery process. They've raised between $4,000 and $5,000 via donations from fellow members and concerned citizens, and they are using the money to purchase necessary items to donate. In some cases, they're buying those items at retail prices, but in others, they're doing so with the benefit of discounts provided by local stores like Wilco in Cornelius and Ace Hardware in Forest Grove, also looking to do their part.
Danielson singled out Ace Hardware for praise. The store has donated about $1,700 in materials for Forest Grove Rotarians' effort to assist victims of the Santiam Canyon wildfires. Mary Easton, a past owner of the store, is a Forest Grove Daybreak Rotary Club member.
"They really stepped up," Danielson said. "They donated those items and have really been a great help."
In all cases, either by way of money or direct supplies contributions, the former chaplain said the appreciation is apparent from the looks on the recipients' faces.
"Whether it's boots, tarps, batteries, whatever, these people need it all," Danielson said. "The amount of loss they've suffered is incredible, and to help means a lot. You can see the level of appreciation in their eyes."
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