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Blue River Residents Face Difficult Existence Past Destructive Wildfire

Tom Atkinson

Many people evacuated from areas near the massive Holiday Farm Fire are returning home.  But locals from one of the most ravaged communities are facing severe hardships. 

The small rural town of Blue River was mostly annihilated when the fire blazed through late Labor Day.

Tim Laue of the McKenzie Community Development Corporation is working with several agencies to coordinate shelters up and down the river, and with utilities to get water and power restored.

Laue said the challenges are far from over.

“We’re going to have issues with mud slides, falling trees all winter long,” he told KLCC.  “We have about 30 generators that we are distributing to people who are sheltered in place on the basis of need and highest priority.”

Credit Tom Atkinson
Burned out vehicles in Blue River, September 2020.

And with up to 100 homes in the town destroyed, water connections are non-existent.

“Fire closed down the well house and damaged – and actually put of commission - the pumps to the supply lines. It drained both of the tanks we have in the area. An 85,000 gallon tank, and a 45,000 gallon tank.”

Laue says water officials are working with the neighboring Rainbow Water District, as well as state water utilities, to figure out next steps. Replacement motors for pumps are being worked out, as well as creating an access line to the school in the next few days.

“So that there’s water to the school, in the case the fire comes back. And then work from there to add additional potable water.”

Laue says power is another priority, but he doesn’t know the timeline yet.  He says officials are working 24-7 to help people out.

“We’ve identified lodges, institutions, and facilities upriver from Blue River up to McKenzie Bridge that we’re trying to get authorized for vouchers from FEMA, as well. We’re also working on spots for transitional shelters where people if they have access to trailers, where we can provide them with transitional shelter that’ll last awhile.”

Laue said they’re working with Lane County, EWEB, and Lane Electric Co-Op to coordinate responses from state and federal agencies. He figures recovery for Blue River will take 18 months. 

Rebuilding will be five years.  

Laue himself has lost two residences in the fire.

Resources and Information:

If you're a resident of Blue River, Vida, Leaburg, Rainbow, Walterville, Cedar Flat, Nimrod, Finn Rock, or McKenzie Bridge, learn more about theMcKenzie Recovery effort here.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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