Wildfire Toolkits Press Release

New Wildfire Toolkits Recommend Actions To Rebuild Fire-Affected Communities Faster

Resources and actions for local and state-level staff to speed up recovery efforts, with a focus on water infrastructure.

By Willamette Partnership Staff



Media Contact:
Emily Irish, Strategic Communications Partner
irish@willamettepartnership.org, 503.946.8646


Blue River, Oregon

May 30, 2024 (Portland, OR) – In 2020, wildfires burned an unprecedented 1.2 million acres across Oregon, claiming nine lives and destroying thousands of homes. To help communities in Oregon rebuild faster from these disasters, Willamette Partnership published two Oregon Wildfire Recovery Toolkits. These comprehensive guides outline recommended actions based on what worked and what didn’t last time. Applying these guides ahead of fire season will help impacted communities rebuild faster.

Within two days of the 2020 wildfires, the towns of Gates, Detroit, Idanha, Blue River, Vida, Phoenix, and Talent were substantially destroyed. The historic and catastrophic event left Oregonians short-handed and unprepared for recovery. Today, nearly four years since the wildfires sparked, people in these communities are still unable to rebuild lost homes or reopen local businesses, due in part to unexpected delays in rebuilding critical water infrastructure. 

“Our state, our local governments, our communities have never experienced a disaster of this scale,” says Matt McRae, Lane County’s Long-term Disaster Recovery Manager. McRae is one of many state officials consulted on the content of the Wildfire Recovery Toolkits. “We’ve had to stand alongside people who are trying to rebuild, watch what they’re trying to do, try to understand the systems they are interfacing with, and then work within those systems to adjust them.”  

While working with communities in Blue River and Mill City, local partners called on Willamette Partnership to look back at the recovery from the 2020 wildfires and pull together lessons learned. Over the past year, the Partnership reviewed official after-action reports and researched how Oregon and other wildfire-prone states plan for disaster recovery. Among interviews with state agencies and community partners, it became clear that two tiers of action could be taken: action at the community-level and at the state-level.  

This led to the creation of two Toolkits, each directed at a key audience to explain the right operational recommendations to the right people. The Toolkits emphasize how to fast-track the recovery of water infrastructure – including wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water. As Ethan Brown, co-author of the Toolkit says, water infrastructure is “the key to civilization” and getting people back in their homes.

The 2020 wildfires were a stark example of how delays can compound and halt progress toward recovery. Years later, many communities are still not even out of the planning stages to bring their water infrastructure back online. These Toolkits are an effort to eliminate some of those delays. And even though many of these recommendations are designed to support natural disaster recovery in the future, the Partnership hopes these findings and recommendations may be useful to communities rebuilding right now.

“We’ve created an information repository so that next time a natural disaster happens communities and state agency workers will have a starting point. With these recommendations, we can stop the reinvention of the wheel every time disaster strikes,” said Jackie Brenner, a co-author of Willamette Partnership’s Oregon Wildfire Recovery Toolkits.

The Oregon Wildfire Recovery Toolkits aim to help fire-affected communities rebuild faster by recommending actions that can expedite the recovery of water infrastructure systems in communities damaged by wildfires. These documents share recommendations for those working locally and at the state level to implement recovery efforts in fire-impacted counties and cities statewide. 

Both Wildfire Toolkits, as well as summary documents, are now available on Willamette Partnership’s website. The team and its partners encourage you to follow up on this work. Interviews can be scheduled through Emily Irish, irish@willamettepartnership.org

Download the Wildfire Toolkit Press Release.

Emily Irish believes that in order to be good collaborators, we have to be good communicators. With this in mind, she brings technical graphic design and visual storytelling to Willamette Partnership's outreach and engagement. Managing the Partnership's digital and print content including the website, e-newsletter, Counting on the Environment Blog, social media, and design content.


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