News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Canyon stalwarts look back on 2020 fires

Two years after wildfires laid waste to much of the Santiam Canyon, friends Ken Cartwright and Paul Toews reminisced about the emotional toll left behind. 

“I can see the Canyon from my property, and it sure looks dry,” said Cartwright, general manager and program director of KYAC Community Radio out of Mill City. “We need to pray for cool weather, no lightening and no stupidity.”

Paul Toews, local artist and radio host, is beginning to rebuild the home he and his wife lost in the Beachie Creek Fire.
Paul Toews, local artist and radio host, is beginning to rebuild the home he and his wife lost in the Beachie Creek Fire.

“Arts, Loggers & Leftovers” host Toews was quick to agree. Both men lost their homes and are in various stages of rebuilding. Cartwright and his wife, Jan, are putting the finishing touches on his new manufactured home in Gates while Toews and his fiancée, Julie, are just starting to rebuild their home on their burned site, 3.5 miles east of Gates off Hwy. 22.

Cartwright had unearthed photos from before, during and after the wildfires that brought back a flood of memories. He began to ask himself who had come forth to help their neighbors and communities. 

“Randy Hildebrand saved some people,” Cartwright gave as one example. “He just kind of shrugs it off. He didn’t do it to be a hero. He did it because that’s Randy.”

Toews added, “If we name two, we probably have not named a hundred others.”

The two shared stories about help – big and little – keeping communities going in the midst of the destruction throughout the Santiam Canyon and beyond.

“One I’d like to mention was Ron Etzel with the Knights of Columbus,” Toews said. 

By cooperating with the SIT program, the group immediately went to work to provide food, clothing, necessities and other assistance to those hit hard by the fire. 

The 2020 Labor Day fires left devastation up and down the Santiam Canyon.
The 2020 Labor Day fires left devastation up and down the Santiam Canyon.

“Local churches stepped in, too,” he added. “The Mehama church’s sheds can be seen around the Canyon. Gates Community Church … so many organizations helping together to reach out to community members – and they are still doing it.”

Not ignoring the few deaths the Beachie Fire caused, Cartwright said it was “miracle after miracle that people weren’t burnt severely or more lost their lives.” He credited this to the grace of God.  

“I’m still seeing people trying to rebuild,” he said to the radio audience. “My heart goes out to you.”

One Salem listener told the two men how much the fire affected people and animals in valley. 

“My cat died,” he said. “I don’t think he could take the heat and smoke.”

Cartwright admitted that for him, on a deeper level, remains hurt and the human reaction to blame events on the bad actions – and reactions of others. He said he has been able to process these feelings and learn to find the good in the mix.

No stranger to news, Cartwright said he now reacts differently when he hears about fires happening elsewhere.

“I actually get a panic, a fear … because I know what people are going through,” he said. “I have learned to be more compassionate.”

The Santiam Canyon’s gain may not equal its loss, but Toews encouraged people to find grace and rise above the ashes to go forward.

“Look for those miracles, those friends,” he said. “We have the option to love and support each other.”

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