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Firewood program in Blue River helps Holiday Farm Fire survivors stay warm

January 25, 2023 Rachael McDonald, EWEB Communications

Loading firewood

An EWEB-supported program provides firewood for people affected by the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. The McKenzie Firewood Program was developed by Pure Water Partners (PWP) in 2021.

The fire swept through the McKenzie River Valley, burning more than 173,000 acres, hundreds of homes, and 25 miles of McKenzie River frontage. The McKenzie is currently the sole source of drinking water for 200,000 people in Eugene. Since the fire, it has been under threat from carbon, nutrients, metals, various chemical contaminants and sediment from burned and eroded slopes entering the river. As the community recovers, EWEB and our Pure Water Partners have been working on watershed protection and restoration projects, including helping people clear out the downed and dead trees and brush to reduce the fuels for a potential future fire.

Lara Colley with McKenzie Watershed Council, which collaborates with EWEB in Pure Water Partners, proposed the firewood program.

“We were chipping a lot of large wood and logs on the properties we were working on in Pure Water Partners,” Colley said. “And I had been reading about a program in Wallowa County where they had a free firewood program to benefit residents in the community.”

Colley herself lives within the fire’s footprint.

“And, personally, we lost our firewood in the fire and I knew other people who heated with wood, who had lost their wood,” said Colley. “So, I had the idea that we could start firewood program to deal with all of this wood that was coming off of properties.”

“I have an old-time wood stove in this little unit. I stay in a little studio, but it heats this place great,” said Dennis Mortimer as he stacked wood in a carport, rain pounding on the roof.

Dennis Mortimer escaped the fire running in his slippers and lost his home.  He’s currently staying on friends’ property near Rainbow. On this rainy morning, he just got two cords of firewood. Brink’s Land Improvement – a contractor helping with the fuel mitigation work – delivered it aged, split and ready to go in Mortimer’s wood stove.

“It's been essential for a lot of people here, not just myself, but it's been very essential,” said Mortimer. “I know a lot of people are taking advantage of it and having it split-- I'm getting a little older in years now, and I know a lot of other people that can't get out and do the work. It's just been, like I say, essential to the to the area.”

Mortimer said he’s encouraged friends and neighbors who need the firewood to sign up for the program.

Jeff Brink delivered the wood to Mortimer. He’s with Brink’s Land Improvement which is a sponsor of the firewood program.

They split the wood at the Three Sisters Meadow, next to the McKenzie track in Blue River. The property is currently owned and stewarded by McKenzie River Trust.

Brink said they deliver the firewood to those who can’t come to the yard. 

“To date, we have split and delivered 300 cords upriver between last year and this year,” Brink said.  “So, a pretty significant amount.”

Brink said the service benefits the people in the community and the environment. They’re keeping the wood local and reducing the amount brought here.

“The wood is being sourced locally from fuels properties and there's no really like spreading of disease or wood carried insects from outside the fire footprint in which I think is really important because this forest as it recovers, is really susceptible to insect diseases,” Brink said. “So the more wood we can keep inside this community, the less we're going to deal with more hardships. It's pretty much a good program all around.”

To qualify for the firewood program participants must demonstrate that they’ve been affected by the Holiday farm Fire and that they’re low income. Brink said there is a lot of need in this community which was devastated by the fire. He described a recent delivery to a local resident.

“We delivered and he was on his last two pieces of wood for the winter,” said Brink. “So if it wasn't for us, he would be out of wood. What's his alternatives for keeping warm? He's a very good example of the people we're trying to help up here that are in a position where they've spent their savings just trying to survive up here. And we're able to kind of lend a hand.”

Lara Colley said it’s been gratifying to see this program take off.

“It's just really nice to see neighbors, people I know, getting wood, staying warm," Colley said. "I feel like we're doing something positive out of this fire that was, you know, a terrible thing. We have some positive things coming out of it that are helping people now.” 

EWEB customers help support the Pure Water Partners program which administers the firewood program and restoration work up the McKenzie River that protects the watershed and our drinking water.