Efforts to rebuild small Oregon resort town devastated by fires


DETROIT, Ore. (NewsNation Now) — Wildfire season was the worst on record for Oregon last year, with more than a million acres burned throughout the state. The town of Detroit was especially hit hard, its City Hall even burned to the ground. A lot of rebuilding plans are in the works, but the process will take far longer than the destruction that prompted it.

The recent weather in Oregon might have helped to save Detroit back in September. Instead, the lakeside town was practically wiped off the map by the Beachie Creek and Lionshead wildfires. Four months later, Mayor Jim Trett is committed to rebuilding. But seeing Detroit like this still hurts. 

“Every time I come into town, it just hits you,” said Trett. “It’s kind of overwhelming. We’re gonna do this but boy, is it gonna be hard.”

The town’s water treatment system was wiped out — the lack of service has prevented the mayor and a lot of residents from returning.

The town’s only store remains closed as well. The year-round population of Detroit is usually more than 200. It’s now down to just a couple dozen.

“It’s going to be a long process,” said Trett. “I think we’re realizing that. I mean, there’s frustration, we all feel it at times. But then the realization that, ‘Hey we weren’t hurt, we were smashed.’”

About 80% of the resort town was flattened by the fires that tore through on Sept. 8 and 9. The ruins have made the drained state of Detroit Lake an even bleaker sight. The lifting of flood control measures will have the lake back in a few months, but it may be a few years before many regulars are back.

“Discussing with the wife but we’ll probably end up rebuilding something, just don’t know what,” said Mike Rose, who lost his Detroit home. 

Despite what’s happened, he believes Detroit will remain a vacation destination.

“You’d be surprised how many people call and want to buy this property,” said Rose.

He thinks the plot may gain value since all of the charred trees will have to come down. 

“And the chances of another forest fire coming after they remove the trees, are not real good,” Rose said with a laugh.

In and around Detroit, crews have already cleared thousands of damaged trees. The highway leading into town is lined with piles of trunks for pickup but signs of a natural rebirth are beginning to green things up. The town mayor, Jim Trett, says he expects a new normal in about five years.

“There’s a lot of good things that have come out of it,” said Mayor Trett. “Yes, it’s tragic and we’re hurting. But that’s the part that I choose to look at is the people who’ve stepped up and said ‘What can we do to help or not what can we do but here’s what we’re going to do for you.’”

For now, work  is underway on only one new home. And there will likely be far more contractors than residents in Detroit for months to come.

“We want people to know that we’re still here, we’re happy, we’re proud. And we’re going to make this town. We’re gonna rebuild it and make it a little better than it was,” Trett said.

With nowhere to live or meet, the Trett and the Detroit City Council have been conducting town business an hour away in Salem. The immediate order of business: establishing a new water system. In the meantime, applications are beginning to pick up for permits to build.

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