While rebuilding after wildfires, Oregon must also look after its personal needs more carefully – Oregon Capital Chronicle
Last week, nearly 18 months after losing everything in the Beachie Creek fire, Ron Carmickle sat down at a computer to testify before the House Select Committee on Wildfire Recovery.
Committee chair Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, called the meeting to hear from people whose lives were turned upside down the night of Sept. 7, 2020, when all of Oregon seemed to go up in flames. Twenty-one fires were fanned last weekend in the summer, more than 40,000 people were forced to evacuate, entire forests, towns, schools, homes, businesses and churches were incinerated , their ashes falling from the burnt orange sky like a dark snowfall.
Carmickle told the committee that he lost his home, his store and his collection of vintage cars that were the basis of his business.
“But all of that,” he said, “could be replaced.”
What could not be replaced was 100 years of family history. “
All my photos… my children’s first drawings, their baby shoes, the pine derby cars my son and I built… Seventy years of my life have passed… There’s nothing left to be proud of, nothing more to share, nothing more to show you where I come from. The Ron Carmickle that was, is gone.
The committee members seemed to take a deep breath. In previous weeks, they had heard from state and county agencies about the significant work that had taken place since the 2020 fires. Reports and charts were upbeat. Permits were issued, homes were built, emergency funds bolstered fire departments, replaced trucks and equipment, and helped people design and build more energy-efficient, fireproof homes.
But the agencies’ reports are dry reading compared to the human stories, and for more than two and a half hours lawmakers heard from people whose loss couldn’t be undone with just plywood and nails.
“Our canyon is in crisis,” said Vickie Larson Hill of Detroit. “People are traumatized, they are depressed, they have lost hope.”
Others spoke of needing addiction treatment services and having suicidal thoughts. As a clinical social worker, Hill provides mental health services two days a week in Albany.
“There just aren’t the services in rural Oregon to help people cope,” she said.
What Hill and others were pointing to was the impact of climate change on the human psyche. Their stories highlighted that Oregon’s mega-fires are not just creating piles of ash and twisted metal, but also homelessness, unemployment, depression, domestic violence, child abuse and drug addiction. .
This is bad news for a state that has largely ignored the mental health needs of our residents. For years, Oregon had some of the highest addiction and suicide rates in the country, and that was before Covid and the ice storms, drought and fires.
Survivors at the hearing said much of their depression stemmed from the aftershock of realizing that there really wasn’t the help they expected. People found getting consistent information “almost impossible”, getting permits was “a nightmare”, and getting insurance companies to pay was a form of “psychological warfare”.
These are relatively simple questions to address, and Evans said his committee would ask his colleagues to help. The hardest job is the mental health component, getting crisis counselors, therapists, addictions and rehabilitation specialists into the most remote parts of our state.
The good news is that in October, lawmakers made a historic investment in our mental health system. Some $500 million has been dedicated to organizations and programs that are expected to reach underserved areas with behavioral health care programs such as drug addiction and counselling.
Additionally, $10 million will be set aside to create mobile crisis response teams — trauma professionals who will travel to communities devastated by the fires, such as Talent and Detroit.
Yet as mobile crisis units move to the next community, climate change appears to be here to stay. It burns, floods and closes businesses and forces exoduses.
Some describe casualties in terms of war – casualties, bomb blasts, PTSD. Some speak of an impenetrable depression, while others find that the pain and loss only begin to set in. after they have finished rebuilding. All hope Oregon never sees another fire season like the one they experienced.
Climatologists, however, don’t offer much hope. As of this month, 75% of Oregon is experiencing severe drought and they don’t think the situation will improve any time soon.
So firefighters need to prepare their crews, FEMA needs to be ready with boots in the field, power companies need to bury their lines, and state legislators need to make sure the mental health care community is funded and ready to travel to the affected areas. so that people are better able to rebuild their lives.
CORRECTION: State Representative Paul Evans is from Monmouth. An earlier version incorrectly said he was from Dallas.