By the Chetco Bar Fire Fund Committee: Gerry Livingston, facilitator; Andre Bay, Curry community member; Pam Winebarger, Brookings Harbor Community Helpers Food Bank; Dale Thomas, WRCF Curry board member; Harry Hoogesteger, WRCF Curry board member; Jan Barbas, Curry community member; Gina Zottola, WRCF Director; Michelle Carrillo, Curry community member, WRCF staff; Christina Wilber, Brookings Church of the Nazarene; Roxanne Hayes, Del Norte Economic Development Corp.; Brandy Haselden, Umpqua Neighborhood Works; Dan Brattain, Cal-Ore Life Flight
August marks the one-year anniversary of the Chetco Bar fire that charred 190,000 acres and forced the evacuation of thousands of people in Curry County. As numerous wildfires rage once again across Oregon and California this summer, we hope that those in danger find hope, help and inspiration from a community that experienced similar threats and not only survived but became stronger because of the overwhelming generosity of others.
“Chetco Strong” — a statement and a source of pride for a community that had one of the largest wildfires in Oregon’s history at its back late last summer. At the height of the Chetco Bar Fire, residents fled their homes seeking refuge for their loved ones, pets, livestock and had only moments to grab precious belongings. In that time of need, support flooded in from across the country and local communities. People drove across multiple states to volunteer, online donations flowed in from as far away as the East Coast, and fundraisers happened along the West Coast. Local firefighters and thousands from across the nation fought tirelessly to keep the community safe from a fire that ended up costing about $61 million before fall rains extinguished the flames.
As the Chetco Bar Fire threatened homes and forced the evacuation of nearly 5,000 people, the Wild Rivers Community Foundation (WRCF) was asked by community members and nonprofits to help collect donations that would be quickly distributed to the organizations and nonprofits providing direct support to those affected. WRCF is a nonprofit organization that serves all of Curry and Del Norte counties and was founded by local residents who knew the existing fabric of the Wild Rivers region crossed state lines, as it has for the thousands of years with the indigenous Tolowa people. The vision was to create a locally-led community foundation that fosters generosity, leadership and inclusion across the region from the Sixes River to the Klamath River.
As the Chetco Bar Fire crisis unfolded, donations provided much-needed funding to local food banks that were inundated by families in need. The donations also helped churches providing direct support and outreach, as well as soup kitchens, evacuation shelters, and volunteer fire departments and volunteers who protected areas such as Wilderness Retreat community and fire-ravaged Cate Road east of Brookings.
“With these speedy donations we were able to get aid quickly to the organizations serving the victims,” said Dale Thomas, vice-chairman for WRCF and a Curry County resident. “When a food bank is running out of food, getting money a month later isn’t going to help. This way, people got what they needed immediately.”
WRCF reached out to residents and community leaders and formed a joint task force that became the Chetco Bar Fire Fund Committee, which met weekly during the fire to help distribute funds, reach out to the various nonprofits on the ground, and listen to the community at large for what the most urgent needs were each week. The committee was assisted by trained facilitator Gerry Livingston, then employee of the South Coast Business Employment Corporation. The collaboration raised a total of $51,000 —100 percent of which was held by WRCF and distributed to the community.
While the flames and smoke of the Chetco Bar Fire will remain forever etched in the minds of residents, so should the outpouring of financial support and volunteer work offered by so many people near and far. Wild Rivers Community Foundation and the Chetco Bar Fire Fund Committee are proud to be a part of such a warm and caring community.
Thank you all.