McKenzie Valley Oregon, Now and Then: After the Historic Fires of 2020

On the evening of September 7th, 2020 the National Weather Service issues a “Red Flag” warning for the McKenzie Valley, predicting severe fire danger, high east winds and extremely low humidity. About 8 PM that evening, limbs from a tree shaken by these high winds fell onto a high-voltage power line, igniting a wildfire that would spread to 173,000 acres in size, destroying about 700 homes, incinerating the town of Blue River and causing widespread evacuation of people living in the valley. Fortunately, no one died. On that night, life changed in an instant for hundreds of people.

In the past 18 months, Lane County has formed the McKenzie Valley Long Term Recovery Group which was funded at $256,000 to restore fire damage and help hundreds of low income and elderly home owners burned out by the fire. The Oregon Legislature has funded work to rebuild the town of Blue River, clean up the debris of burned cars and homes, clear nearly 100,000 burned trees, replant the fire scared hills and begin restoring the community.

In the midst of all of this, hundreds of survivors were sheltered by FEMA in Eugene motels/hotels while they began rebuilding. About 80 people are still in temporary shelters today. While many new homes are being built, many low income, uninsured and elderly people just don’t have the funds to restore their homes and properties. 

That’s where the Long-Term Recovery Group and the Oregon Synod Disaster Team get involved.

From donations made to the Synod Disaster Fund and Lutheran Disaster Response, the Synod Team has funded generators for the Upper McKenzie Fire District volunteers that lost their homes and needed power to live in temporary trailers during the winter, provided help to a local church to rebuild and provide a warming center during the cold days of the 2020-21 winter, provided cash assistance in partnership with Lane County Mental Health Division to many desperate people and fund support for the 2020 Camp Noah/Camp Lutherwood program in partnership with the McKenzie School District kids hard-hit by the loss of their homes. We work in partnership with many other organizations such as United Way, Oregon Communities Foundation and the Rotary Club.

Many things have changed in the past 18 months but the need to help people trying to rebuild their lives goes on. This week, the Synod Team is hearing request from Disaster Case Managers in Lane and Clackamas County for financial contributions. Just one example is a single mother of two who has been sheltered in the motel room for the past 18 months who needs $1,600 in rental deposit to move into a rental home where the kids will feel safe and can enjoy being outdoors again. Another is an elderly man who lost everything and is trying to rebuild his shop so he can again earn the small income he needs to get back on his feet. 

The needs are many, sincere and deeply appreciated. We help where we can.

John Core, Oregon Synod Disaster Core Team

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