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Colton man's desire to help during wildfires propels him to create a nonprofit to help after a disaster strikes

Marc Brooks grew up in Colton, and when the wildlfires of September 2020 hit and the call came for the community's evacuation, he wanted to help. But he wasn't sure what was needed.

Brooks said at the time he saw a lot of social media posts from people needing to evacuate their livestock.

Looking for a solution, he set up a Facebook page where people who needed help evacuating animals could connect, as well as people with transport vehicles willing to help and those who had the space to temporarily house the large animals. Logistic organization came together, and Brooks united volunteers with those who needed help getting their animals to safety.

COURTESY PHOTO: MARC BROOKS - Marc Brooks described the devastation he and his team found in Mayfield, Kentucky, as apocalyptic.

Along the way, Brooks created the Cascade Relief Team, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. He then joined up with the Salmon River Grange to create the Salmon River Grange Distribution Center.

Through the grange, Marc met Corey Rivera who was beginning cleanup efforts in the small town of Otis, which had been devastated by the Echo Mountain Complex fire. They also spearheaded after-fire cleanup in Bly and Blue River.

When Brooks first heard about the devastating tornadoes in Kentucky, he said he wasn't sure if it was the right call for him, but after much thought, Brooks said he knew.

"When it's 'go time,' it's 'go time.' I struggled whether to deploy or not, but in my heart I knew that we needed to go. It's an all-hands-on deck situation," he said. "We wouldn't be able to do this without our amazing team who will be continuing the efforts in Oregon, while a few of us deploy to help the tornado ravaged areas of the country. I am so thankful for my team and the amazing volunteers who support us."

COURTESY PHOTO: MARC BROOKS - Colton's Marc Brooks wanted to help during the 2020 wildfires, but ended up creating a nonprofit that aids people across the country affected by disaster.

Brooks said words could not describe the apocalyptic scene he saw upon arrival in Dawson's Springs, Kentucky. After the wildfires burned most of the homes and buildings in Otis, the Cascade Relief Team volunteers found family photos and memorabilia among the ash. But Brooks was surprised how many things hit by the tornado were moved miles and miles away before the twister dropped them back down to the ground.

"We talked to one young survivor the first day," Brooks said. "She told us her dad was working on the railroad and her mom was at work in the next town over. When the tornadoes hit, she grabbed the dogs and rode out the tornadoes in her bathtub. She said she's never heard a sound like that before. Everything was loud, like a growl, mixed with the sound of a freight train.

"She was confident she wasn't going to make it out. She said she prayed and she cranked the air conditioner full blast, but it still got hot, scarily hot. She survived, but two of their neighbor's barns and a few horses didn't make it. She was clearly shaken and couldn't have been older than 17.

"She said it was surreal to watch her neighbor's horse literally blow away in the wind," Brooks said. "She noticed that one of the family's big tractors was missing; they found it 8 miles away. This was not just a lawn tractor, but a big farm tractor. That was the power in the tornadoes and the destruction left behind."

There are many organizations arriving in Kentucky to help. Local churches, schools and gyms are opening to provide temporary housing. Resources are being made available, and Brooks took the lead on putting a flyer together with all the information on what is being offered, how to access help, who to call, where to go for sanctuary, find distribution centers and access medical aid. It also includes how to contact FEMA and other federal and state agencies.

"It is so overwhelming to everyone with all the debris and loss of homes," Brooks said. "We found neighbors helping neighbors; it was like just one big family coming together for each other. We know that as people get back to their everyday lives, we will need to have boots on the ground to continue the cleanup and distribution of resources."

Two new members of the team, Josh and Heather Taylor, are from Kentucky. They own Eats Delivery and are using their company delivery vehicles to distribute necessary supplies to people around the Mayfield area.

The Oregon team consisting of Brooks, Don Dow, Troy Harman, Corey Rivera and Melanie Stanley returned home to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, but are headed back to Kentucky on Jan. 2 ready to continue assisting where needed.

"We will be working on securing a warehouse(s) for long-term donations and resources," Brooks said. "We will also be working with cleanup and continuing with case management for those who need it. We will be setting up another division of Cascade Relief Team in Kentucky/Tennessee to aid with the long-term resources necessary following such a devastating disaster to such a large area.

"We are in it for the long term to make sure people have what is needed to get back on their feet and into their homes."

To find out more about the Cascade Relief Team, follow their progress or to help, visit https://www.cascaderelief.org/.


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