FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Monday, September 28, 2020
Columbia County Fairgrounds successfully manages wildfire support operation
(Columbia County, Oregon) - Things at the Columbia County Fairgrounds are finally slowing down a bit, following three weeks of an epic operation pulled together on the fly to support 40 wildfire evacuees and well over 400 animals.
On Tuesday, September 8, the Columbia County Fairgrounds opened their doors as an emergency evacuation site for families fleeing the historic 2020 wildfires. It took an estimated 4,546 volunteer hours contributed by 550 volunteers to manage the influx of livestock, displaced people, and donations from the community. Columbia County Emergency Management was also tapped to help oversee the operation, and other agencies on site included the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, Search and Rescue, and CERT.
"We've had some excellent volunteers. Our Fair board has done spectacular work, along with the Grange and all of the local committees and commissions and folks that have helped out," Fair Board member Julie Pelletier said. "Community support and donations of hay and feed from businesses like Dahlgren's to Senator Johnson to just a myriad of folks that kicked in and came together on this thing. Our appreciation, 100 percent, goes to the community for their outpouring of support."
The Fairgrounds volunteers were able to provide evacuees with a variety of essential items such as clothing, hygiene supplies and food. They quickly learned that other evacuation sites were overwhelmed and in need of supplies provided by a generous rally of support from the community, and shifted into a distribution center, tapping drivers to ship supplies to other communities in need.
"I have seen carts upon carts come through the doors of the Columbia County Fairgrounds full of supplies, gift cards, and cash donations that are literally life changing for these evacuees," volunteer Amanda Normine said. "I saw social media do so much good with groups like Cowgirl 911 coming to the aid of animals who otherwise would have perished in the blaze. My mornings have been blessed by coming in to watch volunteers, young and old alike, working side by side to do literally every job imaginable with no complaining."
United Way of Columbia County donors provided indoor shelter at the Best Western for six family groups who had health conditions that required them to get clear of the hazardous air that hovered in St. Helens for several days. Air filtration systems were provided for two families sheltered at the Fairgrounds with children who were asthmatic. Essential nutrition and health supplies were provided to an evacuee who had recently undergone oral surgery.
By Sunday, September 20, all the evacuees had safely returned home, and the pavilion remained stocked full of donated items and volunteers were still taking frequent calls from various communities who were in desperate need of supplies.
"With the agreement of the team who was volunteering at the time, we made a decision to continue accepting donations once our evacuees went home so that we could continue assisting sites who were in need of additional items," volunteer Halsey Hendrickson said. "We are one of the only remaining sites where donations are being accepted, and we are now known as a 'hub' for making sure that evacuation sites around the state have resources for their families."
The Fairgrounds volunteer team, with the aid of multiple volunteer drivers, have shipped supplies to the communities of Glide, Talent, Phoenix, Otis, Lincoln City, and Estacada in Oregon, and to Okanogan County, Washington. Hendrickson said they are still actively working to look for more places that need help, adding the Otis site director has called them a "lifeline."
The Fairgrounds estimated they have received 13,500 pounds of clothing donations, 9,000 pounds in diapers, 15,000 pounds of toiletry items, 36,000 pounds of baby supplies, 6,000 pounds in adult hygiene products, 12,000 pounds of bedding, 8,000 pounds of pet food and 9,500 pounds of pet supplies. Many of those donations have already been shipped out to communities in need.
Local restaurants also rallied to serve both hot meals, snacks, and beverages to the volunteers and evacuees. With their support, they were able to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Local donors included El Tapatio, Sunshine Pizza, Rosebud Cafe, Bamford Bakery, Scappoose Bagel, Walking Waffles, Fultanos Pizza, Deer Island Store, Dockside Restaurant, Plymouth Pub, Warren Country Inn, Dominos Pizza, Ixtapa Restaurant, Nois Kitchen, Wild Currant, and Oriental Cafe. Local organizations such as the Elks Lodge, Moose Lodge, Columbia County Sheriff's Office, and Community Meals/First Lutheran Church.
"We were also able to provide meals to the Donald, Oregon Fire Department Firefighters," volunteer Toni Nelson, who managed the kitchen, said. "We have residents of the Donald, Oregon area that evacuated animals to our fairgrounds. I checked with them daily and they have been able to send leftover meals back with them to provide hot meals for approximately 25 firefighters."
The Columbia County Fairgrounds will also be looking towards upcoming fundraising opportunities to help cover the costs of the effort and to make up the potential $42,000 in revenue loss expected.