Beachie Creek Fire survivors find stable housing after 2-year search

Author: Christine Pitawanich (KGW)

GATES, Ore. (KGW) — It’s been two years since the Beachie Creek Fire in 2020, but the scars still run deep for many of the survivors. Some are still living out of hotels while others just moved out.

Stephanie Lynch and her family is one of those families that has recently found a stable start in the form of a new rental.

It’s been a rough road for Lynch, her husband, two kids, three dogs and two other relatives, who have bounced around together from hotel to hotel. She said since the Beachie Creek Fire, her family has stayed in four or five different hotels.

She still clearly remembers the smoke and flames that engulfed the Santiam Canyon two years ago.

“I remember that we saw the flames coming over Potato Hill, is what it’s called,” said Lynch. “The ash is raining down and it’s hot … the smoke was so thick that you could barely see more than 200 feet in front of you.”

The family’s belongings and their rental home in Gates were burnt and destroyed. That nightmare was the beginning of a long journey with holidays and birthdays celebrated inside hotel rooms.

“There was just a lot of uncertainty during that time. You know, where are you going to be in the next month,” Lynch said.

By February 2021, Lynch and her family had been able to get a couple RVs for her family and relatives. Then, she said they unexpectedly found out they had to be out of the RV park by March of this year.

After that, she and her family went back into a hotel where they continued to live until the end of May. That’s when her family finally got the keys to a brand new rental.

“Even though it’s a small two-bedroom apartment, it’s still better than living in a single room that is less than 400 square feet,” said Lynch.

Her family of four now lives in Gates. The relatives, who shared hotel rooms with them are also back in the canyon in the town of Detroit.

To Lynch, it’s a relief. But she still deals with emotional fallout from the fire. To help her cope, she has turned to making art.

Lynch now paints nature scenes on tie-dye shirts and saw blades. Sometime soon, she hopes to begin selling them.

“Art is my therapy now. It’s something that I have to do for a couple of hours each day otherwise, you know, I’m a sad wreck,” Lynch said.

Going through it all, she has learned that she is more than her circumstance.

“I’m strong and I can overcome what is being thrown at me,” said Lynch.

State housing officials told KGW that there are currently 145 people across the state who are still living out of a hotel. They said the individuals are staying in 112 rooms in seven hotels.

Meantime, housing advocates in the Santiam Canyon say only one person from the area is still living in a hotel. That person had barriers to finding housing prior to the wildfires.

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