Oregon wildfire survivors find healing in support group

In April, the meetings began as a safe space to let off steam and cry. It quickly transformed into a space for sharing information, contacts, breakthroughs and triumphs.

STAYTON, Oregon – It has been a year since massive wildfires ravaged communities in Oregon.

In Santiam Canyon, survivors are still trying to recover and rebuild their lives. For about twenty of them, a support group helps with healing.

One night a week at the Foothills Church in Stayton, you can find a diverse group of people with something in common, something they would love not to share.

A year ago, flames swept away the home of Bruce Bailey and Kathleen Becherer east of Gates. Brandon and Rechelle Kirk lost their home on North Fork Road in Elkhorn.

“We’ve all suffered some kind of loss in the last year – a year ago in the fire – whether it was an outbuilding, a home or just having to evacuate,” said Brandon Kirk.

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“[We’re] put one step ahead of the next and move forward,” Bailey added.

Both families are now rebuilding their homes and their lives. They both learned that the other is as essential to the process as money or materials.

“People love this area. They love Santiam Canyon,” Bailey said, “They have a real connection, a real sense of community here.”

The families are part of a group of wildfire survivors who meet weekly for support and advice.

Each member of the band has suffered some form of trauma due to the fires last September.

RELATED: How a 10-acre blaze became one of the most devastating wildfires in Oregon history

In April, the meetings began as a safe space to let off steam and cry.

“There was no judging,” Becherer said. “You realize it’s just stuff, you just lost stuff.”

The advisory group quickly transformed into a space for sharing information, contacts, breakthroughs and triumphs.

“The first thing we do is share good news,” Becherer said. “It became this sharing of resources, eating together and knowing we were safe.”

“Any kind of roadblocks we’ve had have been good at bouncing ideas off each other and a lot of people have ways around them or what’s worked for them,” Rechelle Kirk said.

Marion County is facilitating the group, providing meals and any support people need, such as mental health supports, childcare or food boxes.

They gave the survivors the reins of the meetings.

“It’s really that neighbor helping neighbor, who’s there for each other, who cares for each other. And you could feel that spirit between the band members,” Bailey said. at KGW. “It’s very important because it created a positive energy that gave people a sense of hope for the future.”

For many survivors, the group has motivated them to rebuild and stay in the community.

On the first anniversary of the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires, smoke is once again moving into Santiam Canyon from a nearby fire. But now this group knows they can lean on each other.

“We’ve reached out to our wildfire survivors in this group just to check in and make sure they’re okay starting this weekend,” Rechelle said. “It kind of unearths new emotions, so we’re definitely going to keep going.”

Watch more Wildfire coverage here

Virginia S. Braud