A lot of outdoor enjoyment was lost last summer due to the smoke filled skies in our valley, but what is noteworthy is how few homes have been destroyed by forest fires in Southern Oregon compared to the homes lost by fires in California. Every summer we have many lighting caused fires, causing hundreds of acres to burn but very few homes are ever destroyed.
This is not the case in California where every fire seems to be becoming larger and more devastating than the last. None has had such a direct effect on Southern Oregon as the November 8th Camp fire that destroyed nearly 12,000 homes and 500 businesses in the Northern California town of Paradise. This sleepy town was a lower-income, retiree-based city with a population just over 26,000 tucked into the Sierra foothills at 2,000 feet elevation. Now that the town, homes and businesses are gone, the future of Paradise is unclear and there is a mass relocation movement headed north. Most of California is too expensive for retirees, so moving a couple hours north to Southern Oregon makes a lot of sense; our valley has a similar feel with the mountains, small towns, and outdoor living. We have been filling our rental homes and furnished rentals with Paradise refugees who need a place to land and restart their lives. Some have already received insurance checks and are looking to purchase a home, but many are still waiting, which makes it really hard to start over without means.
It’s heart-warming to welcome the Paradise refugees to their new home in our valley, but it’s also heart-wrenching to hear their stories of loss of friends, pets, personal property and losing their sense of home. One couple in a furnished rental is busy populating the bookshelves with an old book collection saved from the fires. They lost many of their personal belongings, but managed to save some prized books. Another refugee asked for a rental home that is “secluded where no one could hear her cry”. Many of the new refugees have owned their own homes for years and not rented since they were in their teens, so they are unfamiliar with the process and the cost. There are heartwarming stories as well, such as one couple’s neighbor that went back to her burned out home every day to see if her dog had returned, and then finally, he came walking out of the woods to a tearful reunion.
If you run into a Paradise refugee, make sure you welcome them with open arms knowing what they have been through and what they have lost. Knowing them makes me feel grateful that I have all my family, friends, pets, and possessions intact. I also feel grateful to our local fire-fighters who have kept our homes safe, year after year – please keep up the good work!
– Graham Farran