Where We Live: Documenting the recovery from wildfires

Wildfires

Salem Statesman-Journal outdoor reporter Zach Urness is chronicling the events

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Beachie Creek Fire in Santiam Canyon and Opal Creek Wilderness was among the worst wildfires Oregon has ever seen. It essentially destroyed the town of Detroit, one of Zach Urness’ favorite places.

“It looked like it got shelled by artillery the first time I went back there. It was pretty dramatic. It was hard to see,” said Urness, the outdoor reporter for the Salem Statesman-Journal.

He lives a few miles from where the Beachie Creek Fire started and is documenting both the damage from the fires and the recovery,

“I know it really well. I know all the trees, all the trails, all the places you can go,” he told KOIN 6 News. “We have a favorite park. It’s called Niagara County park. You know, this beautiful rain forest of trails, river access, and I used to go there a lot with my daughters, who are 4 and 6, and it suffered 100% tree loss. So every single tree was killed. And to see it go from this lush rain forest to matchsticks, basically, was jarring.”

Last week, Oregon lawmakers passed legislation to help people affected by the wildfires that burned more than 1 million acres, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses.

It will take money and effort to restore the towns of Detroit, Gates and Mill City as the fire jumped around — even within neighborhoods. Some homes and businesses survived, “and then there are others that are totally destroyed,” he said.

However, the North Santiam River is already seeing anglers and kayakers again. Detroit Lake, one of Oregon’s favorite recreational areas, is still there and there are people fishing there now. But the fire heavily damaged the surrounding area.

“But when you float down it, you can see the impacts. But you know, stuff is slowly coming back,” he said. “There’s a little green layer below there. There’s some green in the trees.”

Urness said natural areas will regenerate and towns will rebuild. He calls the people “Santiam Strong,” supported by the state’s political will.

“It’s going to come back. It’s going to be green again,” he said.

But it will take time. It may take years.

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