Thousands of homes, businesses destroyed
Wildfire Report: An ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach needed for response
Anne Kubisch, president of The Ford Family Foundation, served on the Governor’s Wildfire Economic Recovery Council in Oregon.This excerpt from the Council’s report offers key findings and recommendations.
In 2020, wildfires in Oregon burned more than 1.2 million acres statewide, with some of the largest and most devastating fires worsened by a severe windstorm on Labor Day that spanned eight counties (Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion). In the aggregate, these fires destroyed more than 5,000 homes and commercial structures.
The impact to communities across the state was devastating. Wildfires wiped out entire towns, leaving wildfire survivors to pick up the pieces of their lives, while also navigating complications related to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as systemic inequities. Communities that were already vulnerable, including undocumented workers and families in low-income communities, were among the hardest hit—and they are struggling the most to recover and rebuild. That so many wildfire survivors were already living in high-risk conditions is a direct result of systemic inequities that have been perpetuated by racism and poverty.
With over a million acres burned and thousands of homes and businesses destroyed, the impacts of this wildfire season on jobs and local economies will last for months and years to come. Southern Oregon was especially devastated, with entire communities being wiped out and Oregonians being left without homes, jobs, or even local businesses to go to.
The recovery requires an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to meet people where they are, assess their needs, and work collaboratively for the best solutions in each community. In addition, it will be critical to listen to individuals in communities to gain a deep understanding of barriers and needs.
Based on a Preliminary Damage Assessment conducted by FEMA, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, and other state agencies and local governments, the state estimates a total cost of $1.15 billion in wildfire/wind damage, response costs, and debris removal.
Faced with an urgent need to provide immediate, short-term, and long-term support for wildfire survivors, Governor Kate Brown created the Wildfire Economic Recovery Council to build a roadmap for recovering and rebuilding from the 2020 wildfires.
Some of the greatest impacts and barriers to recovery that emerged from the Council’s work include:
- Loss of homes and affordable housing: The biggest community impact was the loss of at least 4,021 homes. Southern Oregon was particularly hard hit, and some of the housing that was destroyed was also among the most affordable for families.
- Debris and cleanup: Debris and hazardous materials, such as fallen trees and destroyed buildings, covered many affected areas across the state, leaving entire communities with overwhelming amounts of wreckage. This has prevented some families from beginning the rebuilding process.
- Lack of financial resources: Many of the residents who were the most affected by this disaster were already living in inequitable conditions prior to the wildfires. Some families had lost jobs due to the pandemic, and many families were already vulnerable prior to the fires.
- Citizenship status concerns: Undocumented residents have been substantially affected due to language barriers and citizenship status concerns.
- Lack of individualized case management: Many residents have struggled to find resources and information about available programs, including FEMA programs, shelter, housing resources, food, and other basic necessities.
- Rebuilding obstacles: Many residents have had issues with starting the rebuilding process, from debris covering land, to accessing homeowner’s insurance, to accessing FEMA resources, to contractor and land availability/use issues.
- Lack of emergency alerts: Residents in some counties, and specifically in Jackson County, reported that they did not receive any emergency alerts at all.
Find the full report at www.oregon.gov and search for "Recovery & Rebuilding from Oregon’s 2020 Wildfires."