One year later: Santiam Canyon relief prepares for long-term assistance

August 2021 Posted in Community, News

By Melissa Wagoner

Recovering from a disaster like the one that devastated the Santiam Canyon during the Labor Day fires in 2020 is neither quick nor easy, a reality that was recognized early by the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund (SCWRF) Advisory Committee, a nonprofit established on Sept. 11, 2020 to support the recovery and rebuilding of those communities most affected by the fire. 

“As of July 7, $1,015,337 has been distributed to support the Santiam Canyon residents affected by the September 2020 wildfires,” SCWRF Advisory Committee Member and Santiam Canyon Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG) Executive Team member Deana Freres said of the effort’s success thus far. 

“These dollars have supported the needs of 1,166 families, which include 2,244 adults, 300 children ages zero to five, and 575 children ages six to 18.”

It’s a lot of money and a lot of residents helped, but it is nowhere near enough, she added. In fact, these figures are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total recovery effort the group plans to provide over the next five years. 

“At the Funds’ inception, SCWRF advisor’s identified three phases of support to help organize the relief and funding effort strategies,” Freres explained. “The budgeting strategy we apply is 10 percent of funds raised allocated to Phase One – Relief; 45 percent of funds raised allocated to Phase Two – Recovery; and 45 percent of funds raised allocated to Phase Three – Rebuild.”

With phase one behind them, SCWRF is well into phase two – offering “Direct to Survivor ‘’ Recovery Grants to the tune of $2.9 million. 

“This grant program is released in ‘rounds,’ with each round accessible to different groups of wildfire affected residents in the Canyon,” Freres described. “To date, over $835,000 in direct-to-survivor Recovery Grants have been distributed from SCWRF.” 

And that was just round one. Round two grants, which are still available, will be rolling out soon in allotments of up to $5,000 for those homeowners who sustained losses to structures, as well as round one recipients who need more funding. 

But it’s not just money the organization offers. 

“It is critical to note that outside of the direct-to-survivor Recovery Grant program, all Santiam Canyon residents affected by the fire continue to be supported by SCWRF through the Service Integration Team,” Freres said. 

The team – which was formed in conjunction with Santiam Hospital years before the fires took place – offers help in coordinating everything from filing an appeal with FEMA and navigating the insurance system to procuring necessary items like eyeglasses, laundry vouchers and camp stoves. 

Now, with efforts to rebuild the Canyon underway, SIT has increased its services even more.

“SIT has expanded its footprint by joining forces with other organizations to build a team of Disaster Case Managers,” Freres explained. 

“These Disaster Case Managers assist wildfire affected residents all the way through their recovery and rebuild process. They help identify which recovery / rebuild unmet needs a wildfire affected household has, then connect them to resources to keep them moving forward on their individual recovery plan. The Disaster Case Managers present the resident’s unmet needs to the newly formed Santiam Canyon Long Term Recovery Group (LTRG).”

Similar to SIT, LTRG works with many local and national volunteer and funding organizations, providing a one-stop shop for resources that will help residents clean properties, advance through the rebuilding process, and navigate public infrastructure obstacles.

“Both Marion County and Linn County are actively supporting and participating in the LTRG formation,” Freres said. The statement is evidenced by the long list of LTRG committee members ranging from Melissa Baurer, SIT Coordinator and LTRG Case Manager, to Matt Lawyer, a Policy Analyst for the Marion County Board of Commissioners leading LTRG’s Housing Team. 

“For the LTRG to be successful, it will rely upon a robust committee structure with passionate volunteers actively serving on committees who work to meet the needs of residents working to recover, rebuild, and return home,” Freres said. 

While many positions have been filled, the need for more volunteers is there.

“If anyone is interested in the inner workings of what is happening in this recovery effort moving forward, volunteering with the Santiam Canyon LTRG is the best place to get in on the action,” Freres said. 

Other ways include donations care of Santiam Hospital at [email protected] or volunteering for SCWRF at www.santiamcanyonwildfire

“Please help us promote the Round Two Recovery Grants,” Freres added. “They are not needs-based grants, and are available to homeowners who lost their primary residences or structures on the property of their primary residences… 

“And lastly, the LTRG and local governments are working together to host a memorial anniversary event on Sept. 7 and 8. We are looking for support from the community and our surrounding neighbors to acknowledge this important moment in time.”

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