Gates mayor in FEMA housing after losing nearly everything in wildfire

Special Reports

The mayor of Gates is helping his city rebuild, but he's one of the hundreds who lost their homes to wildfire

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Ron Carmickle, mayor of Gates, Oregon, drove past his property Tuesday and saw crews removing the last few piles of debris. Once those remaining ashes are gone, Carmickle says he can start rebuilding his life. 

Carmickle’s two homes, two vehicles, and shop were all destroyed in a wildfire that consumed much of his small town in the Santiam Canyon. 

Without homeowner’s insurance, Carmickle was left with few options but to rely on aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help rebuild his home. Over the last five months, he’s endured what he calls the “horrific” process of applying for assistance and being let down by the funds he was granted. 

“They gave me $35,000 to rebuild my home,” Carmickle said. “The septic system’s going to cost you $10,000, $12,000, $15,000 minimum… They’re just unreasonable on their evaluations and stuff.” 

FEMA says the $35,000 payout given to Carmickle is extremely close to their cap, which is about $36,000. The money isn’t intended to cover the cost of rebuilding a home. It’s just meant to cover basic needs and help a person get back on their feet after a natural disaster. 

Carmickle was also approved to stay in FEMA’s Direct Temporary Housing Site in Mill City. He moved into one of the 14 modular trailers on the site in early February. He’s allowed to stay there and his housing expenses will be covered for the next 18 months, but Carmickle is hoping he’ll be able to move back to his property by summer 2021. He’s already purchased a new manufactured home.

When Carmickle was elected mayor of Gates in November 2020, he was living out of a rundown 27-foot motorhome, the vehicle he used to flee as wildfire flames approached his home on September 8. All he had time to grab when he evacuated was his guitar, a few clothing items, and a laptop. 

“I left the computer that had all my important document information and all my other stuff on it, all family pictures, all that stuff. I left — yeah, just so much stuff behind,” Carmickle said. 

Now, like hundreds of his constituents, Carmickle is still mourning the loss of his home and trying to figure out how to rebuild. He says half of his town’s residents have moved away and the town’s lost half its revenue during the fires. 

Ron Carmickle, mayor of Gates, lost almost everything when a wildfire engulfed his property on Sept. 8, 2020. Photo courtesy Ron Carmickle

Carmickle is now trying to get crews to work urgently in removing debris so that people can return to their property. 

“If you’ve been through Gates and Detroit you’ve seen just piles and piles of metal homes that are just, I mean, you just keep looking at them and it’s depressing to look at that stuff day after day after day,” he said. 

Carmickle is also determined to install some sort of early warning wildfire system in the city. When the fire was racing toward his house in September, Carmickle had no idea how close it was until he looked outside. He’s hoping that won’t happen to Gates residents in the future. 

Carmickle doesn’t think Gates will ever be the same as it once was. Whether it’s better or worse in the future – that’s yet to be determined. 

For now, the mayor is focused on lifting his city out of this crisis as quickly as he can, all while putting the pieces of his own life back together.

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