Do What You Can Do 9/18/2020

View Online
Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” 
—Helen Keller


Photo from ODOT

Surviving the fire

More than anything else I hope you and yours are healthy, safe, and stable through this horrific chapter of Southern Oregon’s history.  I know that some of you are not. Over 2530 residential buildings have burned down in our county.  With some of them containing multiple units, that could mean that 4000 or more homes are gone.

Most of this newsletter is designed to connect anyone in immediate need to resources that can help. You’ll find those in the section below.

The Almeda fire that ravaged Phoenix and Talent is essentially out. In its smoldering wake are structural and toxic hazards that still restrict movement between Ashland and Medford.

power line

Not everyone has been able to return home yet, but we’re close. The fire has qualified for the highest level of FEMA relief, which means experienced disaster response personnel and more critical supplies are beginning to arrive. About three hundred fire victims remain sheltered at the Jackson County Expo. Many more than that have made their own way, staying with friends or family, in motels from Redding to Eugene, or in cars and tents spread around the valley. The single note of good news is that loss of life is turning out to be dramatically lower than the Paradise, California level that we’d feared, with fewer than five deaths reported and almost everyone accounted for. 

We’re shifting now from mopping up the last remnants of the fire and guiding evacuees back to their homes to the monumental task of meeting the near-term needs of thousands of displaced people. Many of them have no fire insurance and few if any options for the future. We have two enormous tasks: making sure their basic needs are met in weeks and months to come, and rebuilding the Highway 99 corridor and its flanks from north Ashland to south Medford. Federal, state and local officials, non-profit service organizations and community-minded businesses are beginning to come together to get our hands around this profound historic challenge, backed by a federal government pledge to provide the resources we’ll need. I’ll keep you posted as we strive to figure this out.

If you’re a victim of this fire, you can apply now for FEMA relief at or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY. If you need help accessing other resources, call Jackson County at 541-776-7338.

Our other fire


The tragedy on the valley floor has been so intense that it’s easy to overlook another fire, one of the biggest ever in Jackson County.  Here’s the current footprint of the South Obenchain fire, which has burned some 35,000 acres north of Eagle Point, between the towns of Shady Cove and Butte Falls, and is 25% contained. Fire lines are holding on the south, west and north sides of the fire, but the east side has been troublesome. Butte Falls and the rods around it are still under Level III evacuation. If winds don’t kick up in the coming days, chances are this fire will take a relatively minor toll on people and homes, but forests on that edge of the Rogue Valley will be dramatically changed. Here’s a long fly-over video of the area.

Please remember we’re only halfway through the 2020 fire season. If you haven’t already, do some evacuation planning --you can find instructions here. And be sure you’ve opted into a wildfire alert system. Here’s one way to do that, and here’s a more thorough article on preparedness. 

Down and back up

I want to share with you two things I’ve read in recent days. One brought me down and the other lifted me back up. Bad news first.

We like to believe that we human beings rise above our quarrels and come together in times of great crisis. For a moment last week I wondered if the enormity of this disaster could heal some of the festering wounds in Oregon’s body politic, the mistrust and venom surrounding the Republican walkouts and their aftermath. Maybe the devastation these fires brought to the landscape and so many lives would remind us of what’s truly important and reveal the pettiness of some of our political bickering.  Maybe?

With that hope, I watched my words carefully with reporters who called for my perspective as last session’s Chair of the Senate Wildfire Committee. It didn’t seem like the time to remind them that Republicans walked out of the Capitol two years in a row to kill compromise legislation for decisive action on climate change, which over the years has turned Oregon into a tinderbox. Or, more to the point, that their walkout killed carefully negotiated legislation that could have helped communities create fire-safe zones, make newer buildings more fire resistant, develop emergency alerts and evacuation plans, and protect vulnerable Oregonians through extreme smoke episodes. As angry as I am about that, “I told you so” didn’t seem like the tone to strike right now.

Then on Monday the Senate Republican who led the 2020 Republican walkout issued this press release.  I actually felt something like a blow to the stomach as I read his words. I want to add that Senator Girod’s own home burned to the ground in the Santiam Canyon fire last week; I can’t imagine what I’d be feeling and saying after a loss like that. But still I have to wonder what chance we have to come together to meet our massive challenges if a tragedy like this can’t shake us loose from our old blame-heavy stories. 

As I brooded over that question, a friend shared this Facebook post. It was the last long paragraph she wrote that brought me back up.

How to stay up

That second reading aligns with the way so many of you have stepped up to help your neighbors. We’re now at a point where the surest way to do that is by contributing to any of several wildfire recovery funds. Two I recommend for their rock-solid records for integrity and efficiency are United Way of Jackson County and the MRG Foundation.

Some people are choosing to help individual families through GoFundMe campaigns. That’s fine if you’re confident about the people you’re dealing with; I’ve joined in for a couple of friends who’ve lost homes. If you don’t know the people involved, you might want to pass. Sadly enough, some of these crowd-funding appeals are turning out to be scams.

Looking for ways to help that don’t involve money? Here’s a new site that matches people’s needs with what volunteers have to offer.

A COVID issue: paying your rent or mortgage

As you probably know, the COVID crisis led to moratoriums on both evictions of tenants for non-payment of rent and foreclosures on home and business owners for non-payment of mortgages. Both of these will probably last until the end of 2020 (there are some details around evictions that still need clarifying). Please remember that these are not forgiveness provisions; you’ll be required to make up any missed rental or mortgage payments in the future. That’s one reason why it’s better to make scheduled payments on time.

What isn’t well known is that there are funds available to help people pay rent on time and avoid future burdens. These agencies can help:

And if COVID impacts are making it hard for you to pay your mortgage, this program might be for you.

Taking care

More than ever, take the best care you can of yourself and those around you. Right now, a big part of that is taking care of your lungs. Try to minimize outdoor activity when air quality is at unhealthful or hazardous levels. You can monitor that and find good guidance here.

Stay in touch. Stay strong and stay connected with people you care about. Do what you can do.


Senator Jeff Golden, Oregon Senate District 3

Emergency information

FEMA information

  • If you were affected by the fires and have insurance, first go through your insurance and then register at FEMA to see what you are eligible for.

How to register:

  1. Register through the FEMA website.
  2. Call FEMA: 1-800-621-3362
  3. Download the FEMA Mobile App.

Information about FEMA:

  • This page has information about how individuals can register for assistance.

  • This FEMA Fact Sheet has additional information.

Where to find help

  • If you have been evacuated and need a place to stay or eat, this page has information about shelters and free meals.

  • Kids Unlimited in Medford has clothing, toys, food, and toiletries for those who have been impacted by the fires to come pick up. Go to 821 N. Riverside in the alley down the side of the gym from their parking lot.

  • Kids Unlimited in Medford and White City will be having food services Monday-Friday 9am-1pm. 

Where to give

  • The MRG Foundation has established the Rogue Valley Relief Fund. MRG has a solid track record for getting resources to people who most need them in smart, efficient ways.

  • United Way of Jackson County has set up a Fire Relief Fund for those who would like to donate.

  • Unete, an organization centered around supporting farm workers and immigrant families has established the Immigrant Fire Relief Fund to aid those impacted by the fire with rent/utilities and food.

  • Rogue Food Unites is doing great work coordinating disaster relief meals for all three meals. Visit their website if you would like to donate.

  • Click here if you would like to volunteer to help.

  • Click here for additional information on how to help Oregonians.

Updated state wildfire information

  • Governor Brown has created this page for Wildfire Resources. This page will continue to be updated with additional resources.

  • Click here to listen to the Jackson County live Police and Fire scanner.

  • Jackson County Sheriff's Office Facebook page is a good source for general information, including evacuation maps.

  • This article discusses how to stay safe during wildfires and the smoke.

  • The Rogue Valley Emergency Resource Virtual Fair is happening this Saturday at 2pm. The event will cover a variety of topics from different presenters and will give you tools to keep yourself and loved ones safe during natural disasters.

COVID-19 information and resources

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301 
Podcast: Capitolizing