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

Home for Christmas – Gates family spends first yuletide in new home since fires

Contributing writer for The Canyon Weekly

For the first time since the 2020 Labor Day wildfires, a local family is home for Christmas.

Donny White, his wife, Tracy Stevens-White, and their two children, Emmett, 5, Dayne, 9, and family dog, Norman, are living once again on the Gates property that has been in their family for generations. 

While they opted to purchase a manufactured home, other family members are also rebuilding on the property but are not done with their homes.

“This is the most back to normal I have felt since the fires,” Tracy said on Facebook after recently moving in. “Our home has been filled with family and friends stopping to visit or coming to just hang out daily. The kids are running throughout the house and all around outside with their friends, playing with the animals and venturing around.

“We over-made food at dinner to make sure there was extra just in case more showed up and so we would have extra in the fridge for whoever stops by throughout the day tomorrow,” she added. “This is what I have missed the most. I love having our full house back, and I would never trade this for anything!”

Friends related their love and welcome-home wishes with “so happy for you,” “absolutely awesome,” “welcome home,” and lots of heart emojis.

With the holidays here, the family is ready to celebrate once again with family and friends.

“It felt very strange being away for the holidays, and 2020 was the first holiday away from the property,” said Tracy. “Being able to be back has made a huge difference for the whole family. It feels really good to be home.”

The Whites said they purposely chose an open floor plan for their new home so they can have extended family and friends over the holidays.

For Thanksgiving, Tracy said they had “all of the family over for the first time since the fire.”

“People were in and out of the house every day as we opened the door to family and friends,” she added. “Two years of not having that, this was one of the most important things to have back.”

When the wildfires razed their home, the White family were fortunate to find a Detroit rental that they shared with Tracy’s father until their house was rebuilt in Gates. Her grandparents moved to the Santiam Canyon property on which her father built the home he gave to them. His father built the home that he was living in at the time of the wildfires. 

Carrying on a White legacy, Donald’s family owned a local mill that had been in the family for generations.

About five days after they lost their home, a friend let the family move into a home he owned. Others brought everything they needed to make it theirs. After the wildfires, co-workers helped with multiple families, including theirs, dispensing clothes, soap, laundry detergent and more. Friends and family members joined Santiam Disaster Services and Black Rock Coffee to raise funds toward the down payment on their new home.

“We are now focused on getting the rest of the property cleaned up and back to green and landscaped, back to our new normal,” Tracy said. “The Canyon is still gorgeous. It’s beautiful in a different way.”

Some of the challenges the Whites faced included ever-changing prices for supplies and building materials, finding contractors, not knowing how to rebuild and what they were looking for and how to make things happen, she said.

“And trying to keep things normal for the kids,” she added. “Trees used to block the wind and weather, but now with no trees and landscaping, it makes it into a wind tunnel. That is totally new to them.”

The Whites may have lost a much, but other Santiam Canyon residents did also, and, they agreed, the losses brought the community together. Neighbors helping each other made hardships easier to deal with.

“People helping one another,” Tracy said, “that came from everywhere to help clean-up – and forestry management. Regrowth is a beautiful process.”

The Whites are now ready to enjoy the holidays and just relax in the upcoming new year.

“We are just going to take a breath and enjoy being home,” Tracy said, “We are ready to work on what is home to us and reconnect with family and friends.

“You don’t realize how much you miss a place until you can’t be there every day,” she added. “The best part is enjoying seeing friends come back to their new homes.”

Her advice to those still working on rebuilding is to know that making progress can be very difficult, but neighbors still reach out when needs arise.

“There is no better feeling,” she said about reaching out and realizing the worth of being home again. “There are lots of people who still want to help.”

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