Latter-Day Saints Unite, Rebuild After Devastating Oregon Wildfires
MEDFORD, Ore. — It has been a slow, difficult and emotional rebuilding process for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Medford, Oregon whose homes were destroyed by the devastating wildfires.
Despite the challenges, Latter-day Saints in the area have incredible hope, and have united together to rebuild as neighbors and as a community.
The first of two major wildfires in the Medford area broke out on Sept. 8.
The fires destroyed 2,483 homes and 173 commercial structures, leaving thousands of people homeless.
— Dan Rascon (@TVDanRascon) November 30, 2020
A short 10- to 15-minute drive south of Medford puts you into neighborhoods that look apocalyptic, with everything turned into ash.
“Most of the fire personnel basically went into a lifesaving mode, where they were assisting with the evacuation more than actually fighting the fire, because it was spreading at a rate that you could not stop it,” said John Vile, emergency operations director for the Jackson County. “We ended up with three people perishing. That’s unfortunate, but frankly, that is a miracle.”
They lost 73 homes in the Bear Creek Ward alone. One of the families in that ward who lost everything was Misty Pantle, her three children and her sister Tammy Johnson.
Pantle said it was their dream home.
“We lost our entire home, everything that you can think of that’s normal in a home,” said Misty Pantle.
“When my dad passed away, I got to have some of his tools, so those have been rough to lose,” said an emotional Tammy Johnson.
Considering all that they lost, Misty, Tammy and their family said they feel very blessed to have a place to live — a three-bedroom apartment they managed to get into at a time when Medford was experiencing a severe housing shortage.
“Three hours after we found out our house was gone, we were offered this place,” said Tammy. “So we are feeling blessed.”
The apartment was used by college students over the years, so the carpet was trashed. Latter-day Saints jumped in to help.
“Our stake president stepped in and was able to get a flooring person in here. Many of the members helped put the flooring in for us,” said Misty.
Helping those who lost everything is still a 24/7 operation for the ward and stake. It’s all being played out inside a huge barn that belongs to Alison Allen, the compassion service leader in the Bear Creek Ward.
“Our barn has become a haven lately,” said Allen as she walked around the barn, showing all that had been donated by people in Oregon and across the country.
“This is some clothes that got donated, quilts, lots of quilts, household goods — those come in and out constantly,” she said. “Then we have toiletries and then we also have cleaning supplies.”
They also have electronics and appliances. People have even donated their trailers for families to live in.
If they don’t have what someone needs, Allen showed a big file of hundreds of gift cards from visa and major retailers.
Allen said the response has just been incredibly humbling.
“It has been amazing. It’s phenomenal. The amount of things that have been gifted have just been, I mean, like I said, they just arrived at my door. I don’t know how people got my address, but they just arrived,” said Allen.
Beth was one of many who showed up that day to get supplies. She said she had just seven minutes to get out of her home before it went up in flames. She was left with just the clothes on her back.
She said she’s grateful for the outpouring of support.
“Our country’s been very divided. This has caused people to forget all of that and just come together and fill needs with no questions asked, who they’re affiliated with or their political persuasion,” said Beth. “The generosity throughout the community has been huge. It’s humbling.”
Speaking of coming to the rescue, Jan Houston and her husband from the Bear Creek Ward turned the 7,000-square-foot building they purchased into seven apartments, all for fire victims. The apartments will be in the heart of Medford. Houston said they are offering the first month of rent free with no down payments and discounts on following months.
“We were already working on it, and then the fire happened. We just said we got to get apartments ready as fast as we can for the fire victims,” said Houston.
In the mist of the fear and destruction, musicians and husband and wife duo Alex and Hannah Goldman wrote a song entitled, “Smoke.”
The lyrics came quickly when their bags were packed to evacuate and they realized what really mattered in life — each other.
The couple, who are not Latter-day Saints, said their Christian beliefs and upbringing taught them the importance of God’s goodness.
“We had so much we could lose and still have everything. That was something [Alex] said that just perfectly described what I was thinking when I wrote it. Because we had each other,” said Hannah.
“There’s no reason to not be thankful and just feel blessed,” said Alex.
Feeling blessed in the mist of ashes, something seen over and over again throughout the small towns of Talent and Phoenix that were hit the hardest.
It could be summed up by the words on the t-shirt Cindy Guyott was wearing while sifting through the ashes of her and her husband’s home – “Walk by Faith.”
“I drove out of here with the love of my life,” said Cindy. “Everything’s gonna be all right. That’s what we have faith in. Everything is gonna be alright.”