By Marcy Stamper
The group handling long-term recovery and rebuilding for wildfire survivors has expanded to include people affected by this summer’s disaster.
The organization — renamed Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group — added four board members last week, representing grassroots recovery groups from Omak and Okanogan, Oroville and Tonasket, the Colville Tribes, and Chelan, according to Carlene Anders, the executive director.
By joining the existing organization, which formed last year after the Carlton Complex Fire, people recovering from the Okanogan Complex Fire will be able to draw on the existing infrastructure and experience of the long-term recovery group (LTRG).
In addition to Anders, the LTRG has a volunteer coordinator, a construction manager, three disaster case managers, and a development and communications coordinator.
One of the case managers is already working with people in the Okanogan Valley, and they plan to hire a fourth case manager to help people in that area, said Anders.
Two case managers, who help find a combination of services and programs to help people recover, are still based at Room One in Twisp, focusing on aid for Carlton Complex survivors.
Who needs what, when and how
Catholic Community Services has helped the case managers with a preliminary assessment for the 2015 fire — “who needs what, when and how,” said Anders. Out of 268 calls, they have completed almost 100 assessments and made contacts with another 60, she said. These people will now be handed over to the case managers for individual assistance.
The LTRG has already had considerable help for survivors of the Okanogan Complex. Volunteers spent the month of October camped at the Okanogan County fairgrounds and cleaned up 95 home sites, said Anders. Only 18 properties are still on their list.
The clean-up brigades — including the Northwest Baptist Convention and Team Rubicon — collected and disposed of ash, trash and metal for anyone affected by the fire. They were able to include people with insurance once they had helped everyone without coverage, said Anders.
“It’s a lot of money for this county to have all that volunteer time — the county can put the labor toward its match for programs like the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] public-assistance grant,” said Anders.
Volunteers tackle building, site prep
Over the past several months, volunteers have been rebuilding and working on other projects for Carlton Complex survivors, according to volunteer coordinator Kathy Power.
In the last few weeks, crews finished six fencing projects using wood from burned trees at Alta Lake. Mennonite volunteers are working on interiors at five homes. Others constructed sheds and outbuildings and a volunteer electrician helped with wiring.
Other crews brought in heavy equipment to build and repair roads and ditches, dig trenches for water and electrical lines, and help with flood restoration in the Chiliwist, said Power. Some volunteers are removing debris from places that burned last summer — there are still five major clean-ups, said Power.
Volunteer groups — most affiliated with a church or religious organization — often show up on short notice. Many are retired, but two weeks ago 60 people took vacation time to help, she said.
Volunteers have been active on the first phase of rebuilding for Carlton Complex survivors, which encompasses 11 stick-built homes and three mobile homes. Two of the constructed homes have been dedicated; they expect to dedicate another four to six by the end of this year or early next year, said Anders. There is one foundation remaining to be poured.
The second phase of rebuilding includes 15 homes. The organization has raised enough money to cover four of them, said Anders. The budget per home is $90,000.
Initially the LTRG had anticipated that all the homes in phase 2 would go to Carlton Complex survivors, but some of those people have been settled or assisted by volunteers in other ways, she said. As a result, the LTRG anticipates phase 2 will include people who lost homes in 2015, said Anders.
In addition to the new members, the LTRG board has two representatives for each area affected by the Carlton Complex Fire — the Methow Valley, Pateros and Brewster, and Okanogan and the Chiliwist.
Beyond direct, on-the-ground help with clean-up and rebuilding, the local organizations will benefit from the LTRG’s legislative advocacy and fundraising, said Anders.