Viewpoint: A tough year for Lincoln County

This was a tough year for Lincoln County. The twin disasters of the Coronavirus pandemic and the Echo Mountain Complex fire upended hundreds of lives. We’ve lost 16 local residents to Coronavirus to date; perhaps miraculously, not one person was seriously injured or killed by the fire.

It’s hard to find much good in the midst of suffering and tragedy. Yet this is a time of year when many people reflect on things they are thankful for; so I’m going to say I am thankful for the amazing resilience of the people of Lincoln County, especially those in North County who have rallied as a community.

My hero, Gov. Tom McCall, said, “Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better.” By that standard, Lincoln County is filled with heroes.

I remember that terrifying morning when we received the news that the fire had exploded overnight. First responders were faced with an enormous task, but they managed to make sure everyone was evacuated safely from the fire’s path and contain it as quickly as possible. Flames were almost literally lapping at the city’s door, but fortunately Lincoln City itself was spared.

The destruction in Otis/Panther Creek was bad enough. Nearly 300 homes wiped out in a matter of hours. Most of these homes were occupied by people working in the service industry in Lincoln City and low-income seniors. This was—and is—a community in every sense of that word, where neighbors know neighbors and look out for them.

County emergency management, state emergency management, the Red Cross, FEMA and other agencies have showed up and done their part in the recovery process, but things would not be as remotely as good as they are without the dozens, probably hundreds of volunteers who have stepped up to raise money, collect clothing, food and personal care supplies. 

Then came the volunteer cleanup effort in Panther Creek. I struggle to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen it in person how extensive this is. I tell them it’s not just a few guys with shovels and chain saws. No, this is an army, an army of caring volunteers, both locals and those who have come far and wide who bring heavy equipment and a spirit of giving to the work. I talked to one volunteer who told me he had lost his own home in the fire, and by helping the community recovery, it was aiding his own recovery. 

On my most recent visit to the community, I met with one of the many people in the army of helpers. Ralph Beavers is a 40-year resident of Panther Creek. I bought one of the glass coins he’s selling to raise money for families impacted by the fire. It’s a beautiful design with a Phoenix imprinted on the glass and fire ash embedded inside. I’ll keep mine close by always to remind me of the amazing spirit of this community.

That’s what family is all about, isn’t it? Neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping friend. A wise man once said in the end, we’re all just walking each other home. Thanks to all the good people who are walking their neighbors back home.

Claire Hall is a member of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners. She lives in Newport.