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Wildfire relief fund helps recovering Oregon communities

Highway 22 in Santiam Canyon was among state's hardest-hit areas
ODOT file
Highway 22 in Santiam Canyon was among state's hardest-hit areas

By Eric Tegethoff, Oregon News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The 2020 wildfires devastated Oregon communities, burning more than a million acres and destroying many homes.

Grants from the AARP Foundation are helping some Oregonians get back on their feet.

Noreen Dunnells, president and CEO of the United Way of Lane County, which received one of the grants, said the September fires displaced 1,200 people in the community and the blazes were unpredictable, taking some houses and leaving others intact.

"There's a lot of people who are grieving and there's survivors' guilt for those who didn't lose their property, or lost part of it but still are living upriver," Dunnells observed. "It's had a profound effect on individuals and families living in that community."

Dunnells emphasized her organization has pivoted toward helping local people community rebuild.

The AARP Foundation's Wildfire Relief Fund has given $100,000 to the Center for Nonprofit Legal Services in Jackson County, and $50,000 each to the United Ways of Jackson County and Lane County.

Bandana Shrestha, director of community engagement for AARP Oregon, said seniors were hit hard by the fires.

"Older adults and people with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by disasters, and the wildfires were no exception," Shrestha explained. "We've heard so many stories about how older adults, for instance, in the city of Talent and Phoenix were displaced because of the fires."

In Jackson County, more than 1,000 people were displaced and mobile homes, apartment complexes, subdivisions and a senior assisted-living facility burned down.

The United Way of Jackson County's first round of applications for relief helped more than 800 families, with nearly $2 million in grants.

Dee Anne Everson, executive director for the group, said they've received donations from all 50 states and five countries.

"The devastation we suffered has been remarkable," Everson acknowledged. "And in direct conjunction with that, the generosity has been equally remarkable."

The AARP Foundation raised $1 million to help communities respond to disasters in 2020 across the country.

News / Oregon-Northwest

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