Nestled in Santiam Canyon along the picturesque nine-mile-long Detroit Lake is the small tourist town of Detroit. With only about 210 full-time residents, Detroit is supported almost entirely by the droves of recreation and outdoor enthusiasts who flock to the serene mountain town in the summers.
“The number one driving tourism aspect of Detroit is the lake,” explains Dean O’Connell, president of the Detroit Lake Recreational Area Business Association. “It’s the heart of the community.”
When the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires converged on Detroit last September, the marinas – and most everything else in the town – were destroyed. “There’s no gas station, there’s no restaurant, there’s no lodge, there’s no motel, there’s no hardware store. None of it survived,” O’Donnell showed us.
In all, the town lost nearly 70 percent of its businesses and public buildings, including city hall, and most of its infrastructure. Water service was recently restored at the end of April and the town still has no working sewer system, but “you can’t look backward,” explained O’Donnell. “You have to look forward in order to make it better.”
The first key to making it better is removing the ash and debris left behind from the fire so the community can begin to rebuild. “It’s like a snowball: You get it cleaned up and all of a sudden there’s a foundation there and then there’s a house there and then there’s another house there.”
O’Donnell, who evacuated down Highway 22 the night of the fire, also stressed the importance of clearing the highway from hazard trees to ensure safe public access to Detroit. “We had trees falling across the road right in front of us,” he recounted.
Those trees, and thousands of others killed in the fire, now need to be removed.
“The last thing we need is rockslides and trees falling on cars endangering the travelers on that roadway.”
Debris Management Task Force crews finished ash and debris removal at the famed Kane’s Marina the last week of April. Now those crews are working to clear other public and private building and home sites through May. Hazard tree removal along Highway 22 will continue through the summer.
That work can’t come soon enough for O’Donnell:
“The faster we can get cleaned up, the faster you will see rebuilding of Detroit.”