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As wildfires affected wide swaths of rural Oregon, high school FFA clubs, like Gervais, helped to house displaced farm animals

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Gervais senior Molly Taylor and FFA advisor Megan Dilson evaluate horses housed at the school due to area wildfire evacuations. Gervais, which housed more than 50 various livestock, was among a number of Oregon FFA clubs to help out with evacuated lifestock.Even though school was not in session, there was a flurry of activity around the Gervais High School grounds through much of the second and third weeks in September.

As wildfire forced the evacuations of many rural residents in Marion and Clackamas counties, high school advisers and students with a local chapter of the National FFA Organization stepped up to help people protect their livestock. In Gervais, the FFA barn, stables and vast high school grounds — even the baseball field — were made available to scores of animals in need of a home during the evacuations.

"We have horses, a mule, chickens, pigs, even some small animals, like gerbils," GHS FFA adviser Megan Dilson said Monday, Sept. 14. "We did have some cows, but they were able to return home."

Owners of the Gervais guests pitched in to build impromptu stables to accommodate all the critters. Dilson kept busy transporting animals for families without adequate trailers. A couple FFA alums, Garrett Phillips and Tucker Ifft, hauled in some feeding hay and bedding straw. Dilson's husband, Bruce Kingman, and math teacher Valerie Schockelt and her boyfriend, Alex, all pitched in.

"We played Tetris with the animals and made everyone fit," Dilson quipped.

Meanwhile, Gervais senior and FFA member Molly Taylor caught a glimpse of the activity and headed over to the grounds to see what was happening.

"I was over at the soccer field and I saw the truck pull up, so I came over here to see if there was anything I could help with," Taylor said.

There certainly was. Feeding and tending an impromptu ranch with a wide variety of livestock and pets is no small task. Nor was this activity exclusive to Gervais.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Gervais High School senior and FFA member Molly Taylor pets a rescued horse at the school grounds Monday, Sept. 14. Gervais, which housed more than 50 various livestock, was among a number of Oregon FFA clubs to help out with evacuated lifestock."There are a lot of FFA (clubs) around the state that are opening up for evacuated animals," Dilson said. "St. Paul … and I know Lebanon has a lot of (rescues). FFA programs in the whole state; we're just here to help out."

The clubs may have been able to pick up the slack from other places accommodating livestock, such as the Oregon State Fairgrounds, where Marion County Farm Bureau President Dylan Wells was helping to orchestrate the transition.

"I have been in and out of the state fairgrounds since Tuesday. I am blown away by the volunteers that have stepped up and made this happen. Especially Danielle Bethell and the Keizer Chamber members that have been there since Tuesday morning," Wells said via social media on Sept. 11. "There [are] over 1,000 animals housed at the state fairgrounds right now."

Polk County had also opened its fairgrounds for evacuated livestock, and on Sept. 12, Pamplin Media Group news partner KOIN-TV reported that more than 700 animals had been evacuated to the Clackamas County Fairgrounds in Canby with more expected.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Gervais High School senior and FFA member Molly Taylor tends to several pigs at the school grounds Monday, Sept. 14. Gervais, which housed more than 50 various livestock, was among a number of Oregon FFA clubs to help out with evacuated lifestock.Dilson said the majority of those transported to Gervais had come from Clackamas County, primarily the Molalla and Estacada areas.

Marion County Sheriff's Office reported on Tuesday that access to Santiam Canyon, where a Level 3 evacuation remained in effect, was dangerous, so the sheriff's office was working with Linn County Sheriff's Office, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon State Police and the Marion County Board of Commissioners to develop a plan to allow for safe access for residents to feed and care for animals.


Additional help

Marion County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Anna Jefferson noted that Marion County Community Services is coordinating the regional animal care.

"Evacuees can get help and shelter for their livestock including sheep, goats, swine, horses, cattle, poultry, and domestic pets," Jefferson said in a Tuesday press release. "No appointment is necessary, and people on site 24 hours a day, however, specific accommodations and special needs should be coordinated before arriving."

Persons seeking animal respite should call 208-437-3002 to make arrangements.

Knowledgeable volunteers are also welcome to help care for livestock, and small animals.


Animal care volunteer site

• Horse Area: https://signup.com/go/wpgZceD. Must have horse experience. Some of these positions are adult only, but the stall cleaning and feeding can be done by older youth.

• Livestock Area: https://signup.com/go/CNtcane. MUST have livestock experience. Some of these positions need to be filled by adults but cleaning, watering, and feeding can be done by older youth.

• Small Animal Area: https://signup.com/go/mtZoXPp. MUST have small animal experience.

• Anyone seeking animal respite help should call Persons seeking animal respite should call 208-437-3002.


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