Rising from the Ashes
The year 2020 has been especially challenging for everyone and last month we added fires in the west that burned from southern California to Washington. The community where I live, in southern Oregon, was ravaged by the Almeda fire as it burned through parts of the cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford, with fires also in Shady Cove and Cave Junction. More than 2,350 residential structures were destroyed by this one fire, including those of more than 50% of students in the Phoenix-Talent school district. All told, 20 counties across the state were included in the governor’s disaster declaration, with one million acres torched. I was lucky, but it has been truly devastating for these small towns.
Personally, I have been very frustrated with how our country has been handling a lot of the issues we face; however, I will tell you this, it is amazing how the people of southern Oregon have come together to support each other. Within a day or two of the Almeda fire, after the shock wore off and before the smoke cleared, people started coming together online and safely in person to figure out how to help.
Local individuals, community organizations, the Phoenix-Talent school district, and even folks from out of state have arranged donation drives and fundraisers. Businesses have provided space to set up donation centers. The school district has opened schools, currently empty due to distance learning as a result of the Coronavirus, as Red Cross shelters. Trucks from Los Angeles to Portland have arrived with donations of clothing, camping equipment and more. Local restaurants are taking turns providing hot meals to those who lost their homes. Area developers are working together to find solutions for temporary housing, both accommodations and the land to put them on. The A/E/C organization I co-chair, SPLINTER, has spent considerable time discussing how we can assist in the rebuilding process. We don’t want to see these communities fail because the large number of people who lost their homes, many of whom are lower-income, choose not to return due to a lack of affordable housing options.
These are just a few examples of the kindness being exuded to address the short-term needs of our community. Don't even get me started on the Herculean efforts being made to find lost pets who ran away as their owners escaped their homes with minutes to spare! It has been humbling to see the outpouring of compassion and care the region has come together to provide, despite the political and ideological differences that abound.
Once the EPA and FEMA have done their part, cleaning up and rebuilding these communities is going to take a lot of effort and time. But we are southern Oregon strong and if there was ever a place that would rise like the Phoenix, this is it.