"Literally the whole town of Blue River is totally leveled ... It's all gone," said Samantha Winningham, a lieutenant firefighter

By Claudia Harmata
September 14, 2020 10:47 AM
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A rural Oregon fire chief and her crew of volunteer firefighters have lost their homes and fire station to the Holiday Farm Fire.

"I not only have my life to put back together, I also have a fire department to put back together," Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Chief Christiana Rainbow Plews told NBC News on Sunday. "And I honestly don’t know how I’m going to do that."

Plews said she received a call Monday night about a fallen power line that onset a brush fire. The fire quickly erupted into yet another blaze in the ongoing wildfires currently ravaging the West Coast, and the fire chief had to issue an evacuation order for residents in the McKenzie River area in Lane County — including her own family.

For the next several days, Plews and her crew battled the flames in Lane County. She learned on Tuesday that her home had been destroyed by the fire, despite a neighboring fire crews' best efforts to save it.

“I am all up and down and inside out," Plews told NBC. "At this point in time, I’m tired and it’s really minute to minute. I’m really good one minute and hopeful, and then the next minute I just can’t do it. I’m lost.”

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Plews' Blue River fire station was also destroyed, and several of her volunteer firefighters have also lost their homes in the last week.

"Literally the whole town of Blue River is totally leveled, so three of our houses and our business, the fire station, the post office, the local clinic,” said Samantha Winningham, a lieutenant in Plews' volunteer crew. “And we’re in a really small community, so a lot of our close family friends [lost their homes] too. It's all gone.”

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Many of Plews' volunteers have since reunited with their families in safe locations, though some decided to stay at the department's surviving station to continue to battle the blaze, the outlet reported.

“Everyone in our town made it out and alive and safe,” Winningham told NBC. “As helpless as we feel as a department, we might not have been able to save the structures but we were able to save the people. So at least we have that.”

Plews is credited with the towns' zero fatalities after deciding to issue the evacuation order.

"Rainbow made the call to raise the evacuation level early so that the citizens in her jurisdiction had time to get out safely. Rainbow is a full-blown, grassroots, salt-of-the-earth hero," Wren Arrington wrote in one of two GoFundMe campaigns set up to help Plews.

Both campaigns have been set up by friends and members of the community who know Plews, and have raised over $50,000 as of Monday morning.

Plews and her firefighters still have a long road ahead of them against the Holiday Farm Fire. As of Monday morning, only six percent of the fire is contained with 165,023 acres burned, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s incident information system.

The agency expects that the fire won't be fully contained until Oct. 29.

To help communities facing destructive wildfires in the Western U.S., consider donating to the following organizations:

The American Red Cross allows donors to direct funds to support people impacted by the fires.

GlobalGiving’s Wildfire Relief offers emergency funding to local efforts providing essentials to wildfire victims in need.

GoFundMe’s California Wildfire Relief Fund aims to “support a range of needs” by issuing “grants to individuals, organizations and communities that have either been impacted themselves or are dedicated to helping."

The California Fire Foundation “provides emotional and financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters, firefighters and the communities they protect."