PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Columbia County Fairgrounds located in St. Helens, Oregon, has temporarily suspended their normal activities in order to accommodate its use as an emergency shelter for livestock and people due to unprecedented wildfires.
In addition, the fairgrounds are now taking up reigns of being a supply distribution center for wildfire evacuees, too.
“This year has been a very different year, you know with COVID and the protests and the fires now,” Columbia County Fair Board Chair Jamie Carr told KOIN 6 News. “Even in these times of a strange year, and may be a tough year for certain people, there is so much good going on during this time right now. So many people willing to volunteer their time and energy.”
“We are simply trying to be as prepared as we possibly can,” added Fair Board Member Julie Pellater.
The fairgrounds is sheltering sheep, cows, chickens, goats, hogs, dozens of horses, and several displaced families that are sleeping on the grounds in tents and trailers. The Fair Board is reaching out to the community for help with supplies for the evacuees.
Stephanie Willis and Chandel Anderson are sisters-in-law from the Clackamas area whose families from two separate households have now combined to stay in a rented RV on the fairgrounds. 10 people–4 adults and six children–are staying in the mobile camper.
“Literally at a loss when the fires happened,” said Anderson, who is also housing her chickens at the fairgrounds. “Even though you know, logically, what you need to pack, you literally stand around or walk from room to room in this dumbfounded state.”
“We got the necessities for the kids and then what we didn’t have, these guys had for us, waiting,” added Willis.
Willis explained community members donated a nebulizer for her asthmatic child as well as a weighted blanket for her special needs child.
“The list of people that have been supportive is…” Anderson said.
“–Amazing” added Willis.
Now, Willis and Anderson help with the volunteer duties around the fairground, such as tending to some of the animals.
When the families’ RV rental was up–and they had no more money to keep renting one–the Fair Board stepped in to make other arrangements for them to stay in a bigger RV on the campgrounds, thanks in part to community donation.
The fairground even has extra trailers and extra tents set up–all of which were donated–to accept more evacuees, from anywhere in Oregon or Southwest Washington. They’re currently housing about seven families or 25 people altogether.
The community is asked to pay attention to the Columbia County Fairgrounds Facebook page for additional needs as they arise. With the influx of additional animals, there are concerns about providing adequate space and volunteers to meet the workload.
“We need volunteers, prayers, and your support,” Pellater said. “We need resources. If you have space for an animal or you can take in a family in need, please do. Sleeping bags are a need right now, tents – anything. If we get full, we’re one of the last places they can go.”
There are volunteers with trailers willing to pick up evacuees if necessary. They will also come to community members’ houses to pick up donations if they are unable to transport them to the fairgrounds. The Fair Board is also asking for donations to help offset the cost of rising electricity and water bills.
“We’re just trying to help people get a foot back on the ground,” said local resident and volunteer Joe McGilvra, who had not been affected by wildfires but wanted to help out those who had.
McGilvra was helping to unpack and sort donated items like food and clothing. He is one of about 100 volunteers that can be seen on the fairgrounds at any given moment. “Our state just needs everybody’s prayers,” he added.
“Our Fair Board is doing spectacular work along with the Grange and all of the local committees and commissions and folks that are helping out,” Commissioner Henry Heimuller said. “The community support and donations of hay and feed from businesses like Dahlgren’s to Senator Betsy Johnson and a myriad of folks kicking in and coming together on this thing has been amazing. Our appreciation is 100 percent to the community.”
To volunteer or make a donation to the Columbia County Fairgrounds, call 503-397-4231.