The wildfires burning throughout Oregon have destroyed approximately 1 million acres of land and thousands of homes. Many have suffered from the devastation of these fires, including at least six wildland firefighters of the McKenzie River Ranger District whose own homes burned to the ground while they were out saving lives and mitigating damage.
Kaili Swetland, who comes from a family of firefighters in Blue River, started a GoFundMe at the request of her cousin Andy Matarrese who works on the McKenzie River crew. The initial goal was $15,000, and after just one day, the GoFundMe had raised nearly double that amount.
“People want to help, you can just feel it,” Swetland says.
The GoFundMe is going to help firefighters rebuild their homes and begin to replace the countless items that were lost in the fires. Swetland says that some of the firefighters were renting their homes and don’t have renter’s insurance.
“They all need help. They all have that in common,” Swetland says. “For the people who were renting, maybe that’s just getting them a new coffee pot and a new pair of shoes. A new everything.”
Christiana Rainbow Plews, who is the fire chief of the Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Protection District, also lost her home while she was out fighting the Holiday Farm Fire in Lane County. Half a dozen of her district volunteers lost their homes as well.
A GoFundMe was set up for Chief Rainbow, as she is known, with a goal of $100,000. The description describes her as a “full blown, grassroots, salt-of-the-earth hero,” and features a picture of Rainbow covered in ash and cradling what appears to be a fledgling grebe she found outside her rig. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recognized Rainbow during a Sept. 14 press conference, and actress Drew Barrymore presented Rainbow with a $10,000 check on the Drew Barrymore Show.
There are more than 200 GoFundMe fundraisers related to the Holiday Farm Fire, supporting families, businesses, organizations and fire departments. A few of the main fundraisers are for Rainbow, The McKenzie Fire and Rescue Department and the Bend Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center.
As of press time, Rainbow’s GoFundMe has reached over three quarters of its goal with more than $80,000 donated. The GoFundMe site is filled with fundraisers for families and communities all over Oregon right now, and Swetland says that she is happy to keep spreading the word for her district and then let them distribute the money however they need to.
“I don’t know anyone who has seen a fire like this. It feels like California fires right now, and it’s just a total shock here,” Swetland says. “I hope we can do whatever we can to take care of the folks who are taking care of us.”