MARION COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon’s agricultural community rushed to the aid of firefighters as well as their fellow farmers during the wildfires that have ravaged substantial swaths of the state.
Marion County Farm Bureau President Dylan Wells was celebrating his birthday when the fires really took off last week, camping with family and friends in the Silverton Hills. He got home Monday night, and by Tuesday morning his phone was blowing up with news about the wildfires and requests for help.
“I didn’t know what we were going to do yet,” Wells said, so he went to work.
By noon, though, both he and his wife were at the Oregon State Fairgrounds helping coordinate livestock evacuations. They stayed until late that night. The next morning, a new opportunity to help materialized; a firefighter posted on Facebook that crews needed water in Drake Crossing, near Silver Falls State Park.
“Within six hours we had 25 people with trucks and different supplies pumping over 500,000 gallons of water into an irrigation pond to supply water for the firefighters up there,” Wells said.
Farmers from all over the Willamette Valley used their own trucks to haul water to the pond in case helicopters or firetrucks needed to re-supply.
“We’ve had wildfires before around the state and we’ve always sent resources on to help each other out,” Wells said. “The ag community is always looking to help each other out.”
Which is good, since there’s a long road ahead.
“It’s all been focused on fighting the fire,” he said. “We haven’t really assessed what’s been lost yet.”
One area people are focusing on right now is stockpiling feed for animals in case they return home to find their pastures or barns have been destroyed.
The grape harvest is another potential concern, since too much smoke can taint the grapes. The smoke and hazardous air quality is a risk to farm workers too, which is making it harder to harvest crops that are ready right now.
“We’re trying as best as we can,” Wells said. “N95 masks that are already hard to come by (because of COVID) are needed even more now.”
As for what comes next, he’s taking it hour-by-hour.
“This is gonna be a long, drawn-out need,” he said. “So we just wanna warn people, if you can’t help now, there is gonna be a time when we need more help. We’ve lost a lot of homes, lot of animals up in the canyon, and those homes aren’t gonna be rebuilt here in the next week, it’s gonna be a year to two year rebuild process.”