During early September 2020, as fires erupted throughout Oregon, a powerful east wind drove a wildfire down the McKenzie River valley near Eugene. This fire, the Holiday Farm Fire, destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses and ultimately burned 173,000 acres of forest land, including approximately 400 acres of the lower part of the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. The fire displaced HJ Andrews staff, burned in sites over 450 years old and destroyed some critical research infrastructure and instruments.
“Even though Andrews staff were grieving the loss of their community, and in some cases, their homes, they demonstrated resilience. They responded to get instruments running and collecting data through a critical post-fire period,” said Katy Kavanagh, associate dean for research for the College of Forestry.
As Andrews Forest scientists coordinated efforts to use long-term monitoring and new measurements to understand the effects of the fire and track post-fire recovery, the wider community initiated an outpouring of giving, raising over $12,000 in two days to help displaced staff.
“The generosity of the Andrews community moved me to tears,” said USFS Science Liaison Cheryl Friesen, who lost her home in the fire.
“The kind words and generous donations mean so much to every employee impacted by this fire, thank you,” said Brenda Hamlow, the Andrews Forest site manager.
The efforts to protect Andrews forest and support the displaced and affected staff was a community effort. Over the years, the work to strengthen relationships between the Andrews Forest, the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the US Forest Service and the Willamette National Forest facilitated a rapid response and an understanding of the resources at risk.
Coordination between Willamette National Forest firefighters and Andrews Forest staff concerning fire suppression and containment activities was essential in protecting research installations and managing safety issues for fire crews. As efforts begin to repair the effects of the fire and fire suppression activities, Willamette National Forest personnel, some of whom were either evacuated from their homes or lost them entirely to the fire, are partnering with Andrews staff to perform this work.
“This is a deep and long-standing partnership; we are colleagues, friends, co-workers, the response was much like you would see from a family helping one another out in a time of tragedy,” said Michael Paul Nelson, the Ruth H. Spaniol Chair of Renewable Resources and Lead Principal Investigator for the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest.
The College of Forestry also stepped in to help people affected by the Oregon wildfires. The college quickly organized a donation drive for displaced families and emergency responders, filling four large vehicles with food and shelter items. The donations were distributed to Linn and Benton county evacuation shelters, and firefighter items were taken to the Oregon Department of Forestry in Sweet Home.
This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.