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McKenzie School District is reopening doors

In the midst of a global pandemic, the McKenzie School District and its community suffered huge losses from the Holiday Farm Fire. A number of families lost their homes, but thankfully the school was saved thanks to the amazing efforts of firefighters.

Like many people across Oregon, McKenzie School District families have waited patiently for schools to reopen. A committee made up of staff and teachers spent months meeting to ensure the school hallways could safely welcome back students.

Another obstacle in returning to campus was the massive number of hazardous trees that needed to be removed to return safely. Thanks to Oregon debris management crews, who have been working around the clock, and local teamwork, students began returning to campus on March 15.

The state Debris Management Task Force (DMTF) is tasked with removing debris and hazardous trees from fire-impacted areas throughout Oregon. DMTF partnered with Lane County and the McKenzie School District to address the district’s needs quickly, including clear hazard trees from the McKenzie High School grounds to make sure the campus could safely welcome back students.

The McKenzie School District is an anchor for this community that our friends and neighbors all call home. For this community, located east of Eugene, reopening the McKenzie School District signifies a step in the right direction for students, parents and community members.

“I think it’s very impactful. It is a really happy day for kids that have been through so much. This is such a normal piece of being a kid,” said Courtney Lewis. The Lewis family lost their home in the Holiday Farm Fire. This is their first official time on campus because they had just moved to the area when the fire happened.

“In order to safety get students back to school, we’re looking at approximately 800 hazard trees that need to be cut and removed. Most of the hazard trees are dead from the recent fire,” said Kevin Finch, the Task Force on-scene incident commander for the Highway 126 area. Once crews arrived on-site, DMTF’s first order of business was to ensure that all hazard trees were marked, recorded and then removed immediately.

“I am so proud of our Eagle family,” said Lane Tompkins, principal and superintendent of McKenzie High School. “We have faced so many challenges and with each one, our team, as well as the debris crew, has stepped up for the students. We are confident our students have a safe place to return.”

Working collaboratively with Tompkins, DMTF crews modified plans to prioritize the McKenzie School District campus, aiming to have the campus cleared in short order.

“It might be a shock for some of our families to see the number of trees that have been removed, but safety will always be our priority,” Tompkins added. “Working with the Debris Management Task Force to remove these trees has been a wonderful partnership.”

For the McKenzie River community, clearing hazard trees and opening up classrooms is one of many steps towards recovery and rebuilding. Throughout the area, certified arborists continue examining and identifying hazard trees for removal.

“This project is difficult on multiple levels. We’re dealing with private homeowners who have lost everything and now we’re telling residents that we’re removing hazard trees that have dead and may fall on the highway,” said Finch. Beside the McKenzie School Distirct, we’re continuing this important work in other parts of the community along Highway 126 as well.

“Our number one goal is helping Oregonians get back on their feet as safely and efficiently as possible,” Finch said. “Thanks to our hard-working crews and local partnerships, we’re able to mobilize on short notice and help the community showing we truly are McKenzieStrong.”

If you have questions about hazard tree removal in your community, our hotline can help point you in the right direction. Please access information from your local county government first, and then call our hotline at 503-934-1700 if you need more information.



Wildfire waste and debris removal

The State of Oregon is working with federal, state and local partners to remove hazardous waste, and ash and debris from the 2020 Oregon wildfires safely, efficiently, and as quickly as possible. The Oregon Departments of Transportation, Environmental Quality and Emergency Management are leading the effort, with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assistance.

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