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

Wildfire grants support five new homes, save $1.15 million

Five homes were rebuilt and more than $1 million in labor saved during the first year of the Marion County Wildfire Recovery Housing Program, according to a recent report.

During the March 6 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Senior Policy Analyst Matt Lawyer said the $12 million program has been a success and continues expanding.

The funds are part of a $150 million wildfire recovery package passed by state legislators in 2021 in response to the devastating 2020 Labor Day fires.

Since applications were opened in July 2023, $623,387 has been awarded by Marion County to 11 survivors of the Santiam Fire in both Marion and Linn counties. Projects ranged from entire home rebuilds to a retaining wall protecting new home construction.

Qualified applicants must earn no more than 120% of the local median income and must be the original landowner or occupant of the property from before the fires. Properties in question must be within the boundaries of the Lionshead and Beachie Creek fires, which later combined into the Santiam Fire.

Lawyer told commissioners it was “really incredible” to see so much awarded so fast from a new grant program, and said the county continues seeking additional eligible applicants.

Awards included $532,195 toward five homes built in partnership with Christian Aid Ministries (CAM), which supplies skilled labor for free to property owners who acquire building materials.

Lawyer said CAM labor for those five homes equated to roughly $1.15 million, stretching grant funds even further. He said the ministry not only helps wildfire survivors rebuild but helps restore their optimism and foster community.

“The work they’re doing is incredible, but more so I think the relationships they’re building and the people they’re bringing to the table,” he said.

CAM Coordinator Joe Nicholes told commissioners his volunteers enjoy the work and view it as a meaningful opportunity to express their faith. He said Marion County has offered a level of support he hasn’t seen in other fire-struck areas and thanked them for their attention to fire recovery.

“A lot of these people didn’t have any hope, and then through this grant it provided a way,” said Nicholes.

Lawyer said the county and partners like CAM have also had opportunities to tell applicants about other recovery programs, like county grants for residential and commercial septic. 

There’s also a new state program called ReOregon, he said, which offers federally-funded grants to help individuals and communities recover, with more info at re.oregon.gov.

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