Deana Freres, Cindy Chauran

Deana Freres, left, and Cindy Chauran of the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund accept a $100,000 contribution from Paul Duman representing United Finance. Many contributions continue to come in, both monetary and in the form of items needed by survivors.

Returning to Gates, Ore., was an eye-opening experience for neighbors Cindy Chauran and Deana Freres.

Not only had both lost houses to the wildfire that swept through the remote town, but the surrounding Santiam Canyon was devastated.

“It literally looked like a bomb had gone off across the canyon,” Chauran said.

Rather than dwell on their own misfortune — Chauron had lost her primary residence while Freres lost a vacation property — the two friends decided to focus on the bigger picture.

Within days, they’d established the Santiam Canyon Wildfire Relief Fund to help families whose homes burned down in the area.

Since setting up an independent nonprofit organization wouldn’t be possible in such a short time, the fund is a separate account that’s an appendage of the Santiam Hospital nonprofit in Stayton, Ore.

No administrative fees will be charged by the hospital, and 100% of the money in the relief fund will be distributed to more than 400 households affected by wildfire in the Santiam region.

“We want to let people know there’s still hope,” Chauran said.

“The best thing we can do is put ourselves out of business in five years,” Freres said.

Hopefully the devastated communities along the Santiam Canyon can be reconstructed stronger and better than ever, rather than becoming ghost towns that people are forced to abandon permanently, she said.

As of Oct. 22, the fund had received $2,036,680 in donations, according to its new website

“We feel very committed to helping people stay in the community they feel connected to,” Freres said.

The relief fund is expected to operate in three phases.

During the first phase, the fund will concentrate on providing food, water, clothing, fuel and other necessities to wildfire evacuees.

In the second phase, the fund will assist with the clean-up of the affected communities that must be completed before structures can be rebuilt.

In the third phase, the fund plans to help connect residents with the resources they need to replace their homes, such as connecting those without insurance with the appropriate federal disaster programs.

“We want to be the way people fill in the gaps when the time comes,” Freres said.

Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

Recommended for you