By Ann McCreary
A campaign to rebuild homes lost in the Carlton Complex Fire last summer is gathering momentum as reconstruction season gets underway.
“We are in full swing,” said Carlene Anders, executive director of Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group (CCLTRG), the volunteer organization that is conducting the rebuilding campaign.
During the next month alone, more than 300 volunteers are expected to arrive in the area to assist in the rebuilding effort, Anders said Monday (March 16).
The reconstruction program will focus on rebuilding 42 homes for people who were burned out and did not have insurance or were underinsured. To move the process forward, CCLTRG hired three key staff members this month to conduct fundraising, communication and oversee reconstruction.
The reconstruction effort will be led by Barry Hansen, a licensed contractor in Omak with decades of commercial and residential building experience. Hansen, who began working last week, will be responsible for assigning volunteer crews to construction tasks, ensuring that crews have the tools and directions they need, and making sure the work is done properly.
A significant amount of the construction work will be done by volunteers, so CCLTRG has hired Kathy Power to coordinate housing, orienting, troubleshooting and otherwise accommodating the small armies of volunteers who will be arriving. Power, an Okanogan resident, has a background in small business management and in event planning and production. She also began the job last week.
Among the first groups to arrive this season is a dozen volunteers from the Western Anabaptist Ministry Services in Montana, who came Monday to clear debris, build fences and prepare sites for construction. The group sent another team last month to build fences. Both groups were provided free housing at the Alta Lake Motel, owned by Parker Barth.
“One of our biggest challenges is finding temporary housing,” said Power. “We’re putting up some volunteers in migrant housing, others in campsites, and still others in local motels and churches.”
Power said she is looking for additional temporary housing in the Pateros and Brewster area, preferably with shower and kitchen facilities.
The home-building effort will require almost $4 million to put uninsured fire victims back in homes. The homes will be based on three or four basic designs for homes that will be 500 to 1,000 square feet, said Leslee Goodman, who has been hired to manage fundraising and communications for the rebuilding campaign.
Goodman owns a communications and development agency called Alchemy On Demand, with offices in Twisp and Seattle.
“We’re raising funds to rebuild 42 homes at a cost of approximately $90,000 per home,” Goodman said. “That represents just the materials cost, plus some specialized labor such as plumbing and HVAC [heating and cooling systems]. We have volunteers willing to donate the labor,” she said.
“The faith-based community has really helped us get off the ground. We are anticipating as much as $1 million from faith-based organizations,” Goodman said.
Anders said several faith-based groups and non-governmental organizations committed recently to provide $285,000 toward rebuilding homes lost in the wildfires.
Many of the groups promising volunteer assistance are part of a larger coalition of faith-based and charitable organizations called Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD). The member groups are dedicated to helping disaster-stricken communities rebuild.
Many VOAD members arrived in the wake of the wildfires last year to help with the initial steps of recovery in the Methow Valley, Pateros, Brewster and Okanogan.
Washington’s VOAD group has established a Carlton Complex Fire Reconstruction Committee, which is headed by Jim Truitt, who is the disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, a member of the state VOAD.
“My job for the VOAD is to facilitate getting the volunteers there and responding to what the recovery group needs,” said Truitt, who lives in Kent. Truitt said he has visited the wildfire-stricken area several times and has been working with CCLTRG to provide assistance.
“As time goes on we’ll coordinate with the construction manager and volunteer coordinator. We try to work very closely with each other. They tell us what they need and we try to provide the support. There are volunteers out there that have the skills to do almost any job we need,” Truitt said.
“For instance, I may have a Methodist church in western Washington that says, ‘We have a team of eight people that can come on this week, what do you want us to do?’ Then we’ll do a skills assessment — what they can do, what tools they have, and when they can be there. Then we’ll contact the construction manager and volunteer coordinator and let them know, and they’ll figure a way to plug them in,” Truitt said.
VOAD members bring many different kinds of expertise, such as removing debris, framing houses or doing interior finish work, Anders said.
The recovery group is working to prioritize home building projects, and hopes to have a schedule by the end of March, Anders said. The homes to be rebuilt were identified through a survey conducted last fall by a VOAD organization called World Renew, which specializes in gathering data to assist in recovery after disasters.
“The first phase [of home reconstruction] will be the most vulnerable homeowners
— elderly, disabled, and people who need extra assistance,” Anders said. To maintain confidentiality, the construction projects will be numbered, rather than identified by owners, Anders said.
Help with fire recovery is not only available to rebuild homes, Anders said. Volunteers can also help with jobs like building fences, clearing debris and replanting vegetation.
Goodman’s position is part-time, and Power and Hansen are full-time, with six-month contracts. The recovery effort will need to raise additional money to extend the contracts, Goodman said.
Funding to hire Anders and the rebuilding program staff was provided by an anonymous $200,000 donation, Anders said.
To raise the $4 million needed for home construction materials and some labor, “we’re going to go beyond the county, because the largest wildfire in Washington history deserves the largest response,” Goodman said.
“We’re going to be asking people who can afford to give big, to give big.”
Donations toward the rebuilding effort can be made to CCLTRG, Anders said. The address is P.O. Box 655, Pateros, WA 98846. Donors who want their gift to be tax-deductible should indicate that, she said.
“People can also make in-kind donations,” Anders said. “We are accepting lightly used furniture and appliances at our distribution center in Pateros,” she said.
For more information, call (509) 733-0318.