From ruin to recovery: Carlton Complex burn area shows it's stronger than fire

$4 Million Capital Campaign Will Help Fire-ravaged Communities Rebuild
By: Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group
Amish volunteers framed this house for a veteran who lost his home last year.
Amish volunteers framed this house for a veteran who lost his home last year.
WENATCHEE, Wash. - June 15, 2015 - PRLog -- In July 2014, the largest wildfire in Washington’s history roared through Okanogan County in the north central part of the state, consuming hundreds of homes, barns, and outbuildings in a place where agriculture is the backbone of the economy, supported by tourism and recreation. The wildfires also destroyed forests, habitat, hundreds of miles of fencing, and hundreds of head of livestock. In all, over 400 square miles – an area four times the size of Seattle – burned for weeks, blackening a region that produces apples, cherries, timber, beef, wines, and other goods that all of Washington—and the world—enjoys.

Of the hundreds of homes that burned, almost half were uninsured—a common occurrence in remote rural locations, where insurance is often unavailable, or prohibitively expensive. Many homes were beyond fire district boundaries; still others were uninsurable because they were built before modern building codes.

In addition to losing their homes, many survivors also lost tools, farm equipment, orchards, pastures, vehicles, and personal possessions. In a matter of hours, lifetimes of work were reduced to rubble. Following the fire, a heavy rain created massive mudslides that demolished still more homes and cut off access to small businesses along the highway. The mudslides also destroyed roads, irrigation systems, electric infrastructure, and other property.

Nevertheless, and despite a lack of individual aid from FEMA, the people of Okanogan County—assisted by a remarkable network of faith-based and other community-minded NGOs—are rebuilding their communities, while simultaneously working to be better prepared for future disasters.

Led by a grassroots organization, the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group (CCLTRG), operating under the fiscal sponsorship of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, the communities created a county-wide network of Disaster Case Managers to assess individual needs and help survivors create individual plans for recovery. An Unmet Needs Committee began meeting weekly to review and approve requests for financial and other types of assistance, funneling donations to those without other means of meeting needs for everything from dentures and hearing aids to home furnishings and tools. When spring arrived, so did crews of volunteers from churches, colleges, and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps to help cut and clear burned trees, remove “ash and trash,” replace burned fencing, and plant hundreds of trees.

The Dawn Patrol, a men’s Christian fellowship group from Chehalis, Washington, brought excavators and dump trucks to haul away ruined foundations and prepare sites for rebuilding. Amish and Mennonite crews showed up to repair fences. A group of men from North Creek Presbyterian Church, located in Mill Creek, Washington, framed the walls and trusses for two homes in a workshop on the coast, then hauled them over the North Cascades for assembly on-site in Okanogan County.

The Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (WA VOAD) and its member groups have been a major force in the rebuilding effort. Meeting monthly, the groups not only sorted themselves into reconstruction crews, but volunteered for the task of raising the funds to purchase the materials needed for their rebuilding efforts. UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) alone has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars towards the roughly one million dollars necessary to rebuild the first 11 homes. Groups active in WA VOAD assisting the Carlton Complex currently include Mennonite Disaster Services, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), United Presbyterians, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Adventist Community Services, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Relief and Development, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, United Church of Christ, WA State Animal Response Team, Washington Community Chaplain Corps, and World Renew.

On April 27, the first four homes got new foundations poured in Phase One of the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery effort, thanks to volunteers from Western Anabaptist Mission Services (WAMS), an Amish group, whose members came predominantly from St. Ignatius, Montana. On May 18, a different WAMS crew completely framed, wrapped, and roofed two of the homes, and on May 25, yet another group of WAMS volunteers arrived to dry-in a second pair of homes.

Throughout the month of June, some 50 Mennonite Disaster Services (MDS) volunteers will come and go to complete the interiors on two Phase One homes, while Christian Public Service (another Mennonite group) will start framing two more. On June 5, the volunteer team from North Creek Presbyterian Church, in Mill Creek, Washington, returned to the Valley to assemble their second home for Carlton Complex fire victims. Their first was a three-bedroom house they framed on the coast and trailered to a building site in Pateros. The second home is a two-bedroom floorplan the volunteers began framing on June 1 in Mill Creek. They again trucked the walls and trusses over the North Cascades for assembly here—this time at a survivor’s home site on Jason Lucas Road, outside of Methow.

“With all these skilled builders here to help, our challenge will be keeping them in materials so that the work proceeds as quickly as they can get it done,” says Barry Hansen, reconstruction manager for the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group.

The impact on the fire-ravaged communities has been galvanizing. “From the devastation we witnessed last summer to the new home construction we’re witnessing now—made possible by volunteers and donors—we are excited to see the ball rolling,” says Carlene Anders, executive director of the CCLTRG and also a volunteer firefighter. “To lose everything—and then to see it restored, simply out of kindness, is tremendously humbling and inspiring.”

As the one-year anniversary of the fire approaches, the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group is launching a $4.3 million campaign to raise the approximately $3.6 million necessary to buy materials for 40 homes. The remaining funds will employ three Disaster Case Managers through the end of December 2016 and pay the temporary staff and operational costs for the barebones organization.

The goal of the campaign is an ambitious one for a county that ranks 33rd of 39 Washington counties in per capita income, but the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group is reaching out to the rest of the state—and the country—to help fund its reconstruction effort.

“Helping others is a core American value,” Anders says. “When people see that we’re really rebuilding, we hope they’ll want to help—just as groups are coming from all over the country to volunteer their time and talent.”

To learn more or to donate, please visit: Carlton Complex (

Leslee Goodman
Source:Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group
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Tags:Carlton Complex, Disaster Recovery, Faith-based, Volunteers, Wildfires
Industry:Construction, Religion
Location:Wenatchee - Washington - United States
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