Reflecting on Echo Mountain Fire
One year later, Lincoln City is still recovering from the devastating Echo Mountain Fire.
This month marks one year since a wildfire hit our community. Echo Mountain Complex Fire spanned over 2,500 acres north of Lincoln City, causing evacuations, power outages, road closures, uncertainty, fear, and worst of all destruction to over 1,241 structures in Otis. 288 homes and 339 structures were lost due to this wildfire that was sparked and driven by the same unusual 50mph east winds and high temperatures that caused wildfires to ignite throughout all of Oregon. Rick Dolan, the ODF’s fire commander said, "It’s a miracle that we are able to report that there are no fatalities associated with this incident.”
Firefighters were scattered and transferred throughout the State to contain wildfires from further spreading. Over 600 firefighters from both in-state and out of state, were battling Echo Mountain Complex Fire. This included an ODF management team from LaGrande, local fire districts, out-of-state fire districts, volunteers, and equipment from large forestland owners in Lincoln City. North Lincoln Fire and Rescue battled head-on, fighting to save the Otis neighborhood while not knowing if their own homes were being affected or still standing.
Word spread quickly and evacuation notices were put in place. Multiple locations opened their doors to those evacuating from the North, but shortly after this the threat of the fire reached Roads End. Locations for refugees began to change as evacuation levels continued and information began changing at a rapid pace. Power outages, orange smoke-filled sky, backed up traffic and natural disasters from the wind storm, left Lincoln City in an apocalyptic state. As our state representative, David Gomberg said, “When you live on the coast, you’re always thinking about potential disasters. Just not this kind.” Many were forced to grab whatever personal belongings they could and leave their home, unsure what would be there when they returned.
Fearless firefighters worked day and night withstanding long hours and constant assessments, and after multiple days of dedication, were finally able to fully contain the Echo Mountain Fire. We can not thank these heroics enough. "It’s good to be home again, but what an incredible experience! They were somber days filled with humbling experiences, but I’m very proud of the work Task Force Idaho put in on the Echo Mountian Fire. The mission of assessing homes damaged or destroyed in the communities surrounding Lincoln City was overwhelming, but these men took on every challenge, both physical and emotional." Task Force Idaho stated.
And before anyone could blink, #OtisStrong happened. Our community was already jumping into action by helping in any capacity they could. Individuals, businesses, and community leaders rallied together and got to work right away. Those individuals morphed their efforts into more formative structures, creating legal nonprofits and working in conjunction with each other to help all affected. These individual powers combined and formed groups like The Lincoln County Long Term Recovery Group, among others. “Much like the Avengers”, a volunteer stated, "with all of our powers combined we were able to cover all areas to help." As people continue to need aid, they are connected with the groups specific to that area. Communities throughout Lincoln County rallied to support all affected in all ways imaginable, despite these uncertain of times.
Hundreds and hundreds of people donated overwhelming amounts of money and resources. The long road to recovery began with the help of volunteers throughout the county. Hotels opened their doors to survivors, no questions asked. Donation sites were set up all throughout town. Restaurants were providing free meals. The Lincoln City Outlets opened vacant storefronts to hold donations as well as a space for people to find the assistance of any kind. Fundraisers were everywhere, from artists creating pieces including ashes from the fire to online go-fund me’s to donation jars at every establishment, our communities bonded together like we've never before.
The clearing process started quickly and moved faster than anyone thought possible. So far, around 68 people have had houses rebuilt and have returned to their property, this only reflects about a third of those affected. 75 families continue to live in non-congregate shelters like hotels and about 150 families are still living in rented homes, staying with relatives, or have moved out of the county.
Even a year later, the recovery process is still in full effect and will be for quite some time. “This is an ongoing trauma for so many. People are triggered by sirens and a lot still have their bags still packed in case of emergency. This is a recovery that’s going to take a long time.” Bethany Howe with Echo Mountain Fire Relief stated. “Just because you see someone is home, doesn't mean their recovery is over.”
In a very divided time in the world, where people have found reasons to not to get along, people put differences aside as it was time to help and restore the community we call home. It was a large yet simple reminder to continue giving people grace and to love your neighbor.
If you would like to donate to the continued efforts in recovery, please consider visiting www.LCLTRG.org