How you can help neighbors, communities during this historic wildfire season

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Sept. 11, 2020 1 p.m.

Unprecedented wildfires burning across Oregon could result in the greatest loss of human life and property from wildfires in the state’s history, Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday.

But hearing about destruction in towns like Detroit, Mill City, Talent and Phoenix has left many Oregonians wondering how they can help.


In Gladstone, Jon Roberts, a pastor with the New Life Church said he’s working with a group of contractors to load up big trucks with water and donated pizza.

“We’re just trying to go up to these places where the people are amassing out there in Oregon City — Clackamas Community College, Winco parking lot — and just passing out food. Making sure people have water,” Roberts said. “We have several churches in Gladstone that have opened up their parking lots for people to park. They can stay overnight in their cars.”

Volunteers served meals at the state fairgrounds in Salem, where an evacuation center was established for people fleeing the Santiam Fire.

Volunteers served meals at the state fairgrounds in Salem, where an evacuation center was established for people fleeing the Santiam Fire.

Dirk VanderHart

Business owners are also helping out. Some U-Haul franchises are offering 30 days of free self-storage to people impacted by the wildfires. And in Washington County, the local fairgrounds have opened to give evacuees somewhere to put their livestock.

“There has been an outpouring of a lot of generosity from the public,” said county spokeswoman, Lisa DuPre'. People have been offering trailers and trucks to help others relocate their animals.

“We are taking in horses and small animals. If the owners cannot stay to care for them, then the sheriff’s posse is going to care for the animals overnight,” she said.

DuPre' said that should give families time to deal with other issues, like saving their homes from fire. But she said people will have to look after their animals during the day.


So far, there isn’t a call for animal food supplies. “But we plan to update if that need arises,” DuPre' said.

While many people want to provide hands-on help, the director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management Andrew Phelps said money is a real help, “The best thing that folks can do is to support the communities that have been impacted through financial donations to relief organizations that are actively responding and will be responding to these disasters.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry has said wildfire incident centers around the region are unable to accept donations directly. The agency is also directing people to contribute financially, if they are able.

To avoid scams and ensure their money goes to the right place, Phelps recommends people visit the Oregon Voluntary Organizations Active In Disasters website. It funnels people to organizations in the thick of things, like the Red Cross, Team Rubicon and The Salvation Army.

People can also donate to specific organizations like the Wildland Firefighters Fund.

But Phelps said there are ways people can help out without really doing much. “If you’re in a safe place, stay home. Reduce the impact of being out on the roads, taking up resources that folks who are evacuating need to evacuate safely.”

Phelps said people can also help by not calling 911 unless there’s an emergency. “Don’t call 911 just to report smoke. There’s smoke everywhere and our 911 system is being inundated with smoke calls. Don’t call 911 for utility outages, or updates.”

He said people should call 911 to report a fire, if they need assistance during an evacuation, or for other life safety needs.

Other ways to help involve good communication. For example, the Red Cross has a website where evacuees can let friends and family know they’re safe. That saves authorities from checking houses for people where nobody is home.

And people should make sure they’re registered to get county alerts online and via cell phones in case there is an emergency in their area.

Phelps said people can help by following directions, “Please heed warnings of emergency personnel. If you’re under evacuation orders, follow those orders, go where you’ve been directed to evacuation points. And make sure you’re prepared to leave as soon as possible.”

And finally, Phelps said, there’s one more thing evacuees can do to help, “Do not return to the evacuation area until the authorities have permitted re-entry. That’s really important.”