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

Community Focus: Relationships provide keys to rebuilding efforts

About the Series

This story is part of a package noting the third anniversary of the 2020 wildfires. The goal of the series to look forward at what challenges still lie ahead for Santiam Canyon communities.

To Kevin Dial, recovering from the Santiam Fire means a lot more than helping rebuild homes and businesses.

While rebuilding is his official focus as recovery manager for Santiam Canyon Long Term Recovery Group, he said there must also be a focus on community and relationships.

“The goal is really getting family members back where they should be and making sure they are happy and able to live their lives in the manner that they’ve chosen in the place that they’ve chosen, which is the Santiam Canyon,” said Dial.

Kevin Dial joined Santiam Recovery in 2021 amid efforts to connect wildfire survivors with resources to rebuild and renew their communities. He had a background in operations with the Oregon Army National Guard and in community leadership.

More than 1,100 structures were impacted by the Santiam Fire on Labor Day, 2020, including 470 homes used as primary residences according to Santiam recovery.

Rebuilding would already have been a challenge, then the construction industry was struck by supply chain delays and increasing materials costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Add to this the fact that many homes and communities which burned were built before modern construction and pollution standards and some properties had to be brought up to code.

Dial said it was a “perfect storm” for his group and other recovery agencies. But if there was one definitive result of the Santiam Fire, he said, it was how the community rallied together.

“Many of our survivors have built a new resilience that they didn’t know they had,” said Dial. “The fires had a community bonding where now you get together as a community, where you talk to your neighbor.”

One group that helped bind the community together was Santiam Hospital, which led efforts to create the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund to gather and manage donations and other revenue. During the last three years, the fund has collected more than $4.4 million toward a goal of $5 million to rebuild the canyon.

Dial also said Marion County was proactive in moving recovery efforts forward, as well as city officials from Stayton to Idanha. Between nonprofits and governments backing rebuilding efforts, Dial said the Santiam Canyon is far ahead of other Oregon communities impacted by fires in 2020.

“Having an engaged community with leaders that step up and say, ‘We want to make a difference,’…it had a much different effect than in other areas,” he said.

There is still much to be done, as Santiam Recovery still has around 100 homes planned to be rebuilt, while also helping foster the return of businesses to the area. Dial said funding remains a challenge and said Marion County continues to pursue housing grants.

There is also the challenge of limited sewer access in areas like Mill City, Gates and Detroit. He said this creates a catch-22 where cities can’t afford expansion without more ratepayers, but can’t add ratepayers without expansion.

Dial said it may be another 10 or 20 years before rebuilding efforts are totally complete, but he does believe the area has a bright future. While nothing can undo the loss of homes and cultural institutions, Dial said his community partners and his neighbors have helped him understand why people chose to rebuild.

“(The Santiam Canyon) is one of the most beautiful places in the nation and I understand why they like it here,” he said.

 

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