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Wildfire Refugees Moved To Springfield To Accommodate Athletes

Brian Bull

Several dozen families displaced by last year’s Holiday Farm Fire were relocated again last month, to make room for athletes competing in the Olympic Trials in Eugene.

The families had been staying in Eugene-Springfield area hotels since fall. But with the trials, graduation ceremonies, and other events, they were recently relocated to Springfield’s GuestHouse Inn and Suites. But not all stayed.

“Went to the room, walked in, and promptly walked back out,” said Melanie Stanley of Blue River. She lost her home and business to wildfire, and had lived at the Holiday Inn Express until mid-May.

All through 2020 and much of the new year, there was much uncertainty about many planned events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The 2020 Olympic Trials were postponed, and organizers and officials were tracking case numbers through a good portion of the spring until they decided to hold the event this year.  The reactivation of the trials meant hotels' contracts for housing participants were also in play.  

Stanley told KLCC that initially, she had no issue with the relocation, which was originally planned for June 1st. But that soon got moved to May 15th, catching her and other survivors off guard. And when they saw the new hotel’s rooms, they were found to be in disrepair, lacking working microwaves and refrigerators.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Melanie Stanley, outside the remnants of her home and general store, February 2021.

“So how are people supposed to reheat food or keep anything cold? They can’t just DoorDash a meal every day," she said.  "Most of these folks, they’re still living on whatever’s left of maybe some FEMA money that they got.”

Stanley is back at Blue River, living in a trailer. She said in time, hopefully a workable solution will be found to help those who’ve been displaced by the Holiday Farm Fire for nearly a year.

“Whether it’s finding another piece of land to put FEMA housing on, or finding another hotel that they can do like a Turnkey situation on,” offered Stanley.

“Or going in and just fixing everything at that GuestHouse Inn, but that’s going to take a lot of work. I don’t know what the solution is, but there has to be something better.”

Meanwhile, an Oregon Department of Human Services representative says they’ve sent working appliances to the GuestHouse Inn and Suites.  The ODHS says the GuestHouse was chosen to best accommodate meal delivery, commutes, and connections for those displaced by the Holiday Farm Fire. They add a shelter liaison visits daily, and the agency was given just four weeks’ notice of the hotels’ contracts for the Olympic Trials. 

“We take all issues seriously,” the ODHS wrote in an email to KLCC. 

Currently, 75 Lane County families – comprising 175 individuals – are in their emergency shelter care.

When asked if there were other locations being sought for displaced residents, ODHS responded that they are exploring options for longer-term solutions, but can’t disclose locations due to the “nature of these negotiations.”

Copyright 2021, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ 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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