Lara Colley was sleeping at her grandmother’s house when the emergency alert woke her. She called her partner to help him evacuate their farm in Vida.
“He was trying to evacuate our chickens and cats. I was telling him which documents to grab. It was really scary to not be there and have no control of the situation,” she said.
Most of their forested property burned. They lost their outbuildings, but not their house.
“The neighbors on both sides lost their homes, so we were the only house left on the driveway,” she said. “We lost our well. We did not have water for a long time. It was rough. It could have been so much worse.”
In the year since the fire, Lara has been helping her neighbors recover, working as a Watershed Restoration Specialist with the McKenzie Watershed Council. She spends most of her days surveying properties within the burn zone to administer Pure Water Partners restoration programs.
The programs include installing erosion control measures to buffer the watershed from hazardous debris, replanting riparian forests, and removing invasive species like blackberries that she says have been reinvigorated by the fire.
“That not only helps from an ecological perspective, because we’re controlling invasive species in the watershed, but a lot of them act as fuels, so we’re creating fire resistance and resilience for the community,” she said.
Lara says it’s challenging to spend so much time thinking about the fire, as both a survivor with her own property to repair and as an emissary of the Pure Water Partners program. She says she’s motivated to help her community prepare for the challenges ahead.
“I don’t want to sound alarmist, but we will have more fires. It’s not a matter of if, but when,” she said. “I think this fuels reduction work is one of the most valuable things we can be offering. By having more people prepared, we’re going to be in a better place to face what’s ahead. We need to be doing everything we can to prepare ourselves and the watershed for living with more uncertainty.”
Watch a video of Lara and other HFF survivors sharing their experiences: eweb.org/wildfirerecovery